Earlier this week, the United States Department of Defense (DoD) released a new policy: “Official Use of Social Media for Public Affairs Purposes,” which was meant to clearly spell out how every individual – from the highest levels of the defense community – can use the platforms to best advance the mission of the United States military. Though some of the military services and other agencies have published social media policies in the past, DODI 5400.17 is the Pentagon’s first instruction to specifically address the use of social media.
“It’s long overdue,” Andy Oare, director of digital media for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said via a statement. “There have been efforts in the past to do this, but in an organization of this size and magnitude, you need to fully coordinate and ensure all viewpoints are heard and represented. We wanted to make sure the services were collaborators from the very beginning.”
Social media has an effect on every service member, civilian contractors, and their families, added Oare. The same guidelines for the use of social media need to be the same to an individual who may run an official account, as well as to someone who may have never used the platforms. “We owe it to all of them to have one central policy that provides a clearly articulated standard of operation and accountability.”
Per the new policy, posts released from DoD social media accounts must be accurate, appropriate, timely, and in the appropriate tone. In addition, posts may need to be reviewed for operations security and information security in accordance with existing policies.
Important First Step
This may be the first official DoD policy to address the use social media, but it likely won’t be the last. The military must still deal with service members who fail to consider when and where they’re often posting.
Social media can provide an important connection for individuals to stay connected with friends and families, but it can often result in “over sharing” as the posts don’t go through the screening processes that service members faced in the past.
There are also concerns regarding which platforms are being used. TikTok has gained popularity with younger users, but U.S. lawmakers, along with many in the intelligence community (IC), have expressed concerns that the Chinese-owned platform could be used by Beijing to gain access about U.S. citizens, notably those in uniform.
TikTok has claimed that U.S. user data is safe, yet, the Trump administration had sought to ban the service entirely. These concerns continue, and in 2019, the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) recommended that all employees of the DoD refrain from using the popular social media app, while that same year, the Pentagon went so far as to ban service members from using TikTok on all government-issued devices.
Evolving Role of Social Media and the Military
It is likely we will see future directives and policies regarding the military and social media, but the Pentagon will likely continue to be more reactive than proactive.
“Social media has been around for a long time, so it’s interesting that we are just now getting a policy from the Pentagon in 2022,” explained Jill Hamilton, senior editor at ClearanceJobs.
“But it also shows that the social media role is growing in general. No longer should it be someone who is at a junior level,” Hamilton added. “We need emotional intelligence, situational awareness, as well as, an understanding of what’s in and out of allowable department policy. The good news is that despite many missteps over the years and soldiers behaving badly on social media, the policy isn’t banning applications. But they are setting up some guardrails that have been lacking. With the 27 pages of policy, it should be easier to implement corrective measures for future blunders.”