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Since being hired as principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs in June, Price B. Floyd has made waves as the Pentagon's "social media czar," promoting the use of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social networking tools to spread the department's message.
Floyd explained the new policy announced last week to participants in a "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable yesterday.
"This means all [Defense Department] components have been told ... that the default switch on access is to be open," Floyd said. "It's balanced with the need to be security-conscious and tells the combatant commands to continue to deny access to sites when people try to access them inappropriately."
The policy upholds longstanding regulations denying access to Web sites with inappropriate content, such as gambling, hate crimes or pornography, he said. The new policy also keeps in the mind the importance of operational security, which he said becomes more important because of social media's reach.
"Don't say or do anything on these sites you wouldn't say or do in any other form of communication," he said. "The people here in public affairs have started an education campaign to push out both the fact that we have this new policy, and the need to use it appropriately."
He cautioned that certain caveats apply to the policy. In many areas where servicemembers are stationed around the world, the infrastructure simply doesn't exist to support high-bandwidth applications such as video streaming, he explained.
"In a place like Afghanistan, bandwidth is going to be a problem. Just because we have a new policy, doesn't mean everything's open," he said. "If we don't have the bandwidth, we don't have the bandwidth."
The new policy comes largely as a result of a culture shift outside the Defense Department, Floyd said. That shift needs to be carried over into the department's culture, he added, as young people, many of whom have grown up using sites such as MySpace and Facebook, join the military.
"I think we have work here to do at the Defense Department," Floyd said. "People who are coming into the military take all of this for granted. They can't imagine a world where one didn't have access to these sorts of sites. For those of us who are a little longer in the tooth, it's only been in the past few years that we've seen these developments and discovered how useful they can be. So we have some education and cultural shifting to do."
Along with educating servicemembers on how to use social media tools appropriately, Floyd said, some trial and error also must be part of the process. Because these technologies are constantly emerging and evolving, he explained, leaders should be less concerned about being given step-by-step guidance on how to use each application and more about finding what works best for their unit in their location.
Floyd said he's been amazed by his own ability to engage with audiences worldwide using social media to talk to people he likely will never meet in person,. The promise and outcome of Web 2.0 technology is the potential for outreach to an immense audience with relatively little effort, he noted.
"For me, this is not so much about official messaging," he said. "This is about the men and the women of the armed forces having access to these ways of communicating. Even on my own Twitter, which I would say is official, I don't communicate 'official messages.'"
The early months of the new policy will be a learning period for everyone, Floyd said. In six months, he added, a review will lead to further guidance. For now, though, he encouraged exploration of social media.
"We shouldn't be so dogmatic about this stuff," he said. "Try new things, see what works. What works for me here in Washington might not work on a base somewhere else. I would encourage people to open a Twitter account, create a Facebook page, and see what works for them and their audience."
Graham works in the Defense Media Activity's emerging media directorate.