Friday, October 02, 2009

Friends and Foes

What Mitch Wagner has described as the Department of Defense's "on-again off-again romance with social networking sites" is supposed to be back on again, according to his post "Defense Department Loves Social Networking Again." As evidence, Wagner cites this memo, which he interprets in the following manner:

The memo, written by Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn III, is a move back in the direction of embracing social media. "This policy recognizes that emerging Internet-based capabilities offer both opportunities and risks that need to be balanced in ways that provide an information advantage for our people and mission partners," it states. It applies to the public, non-Defense-owned networks and services.

It calls on the Defense Department to "permit and encourage official use" of social networks. "to leverage their potential while managing risk," and also permit "personal, unofficial use" of social media, so long as users don't "claim representation of the Department or its policies, or those of the U.S. government."

What's tricky about the memo has to do with what rhetoricians call ethos or how people represent their public characters to seem credible and trust-worthy. Online authors often draw upon their experiences and social roles to bolster the authority of their claims. However, the memo stipulates that "personnel acting in their official capacity shall maintain liaison with public affairs staff to ensure organizational awareness." Even as an academic, I am aware that defining when I am speaking in my "official capacity" and when I am expressing a person opinion can be difficult to differentiate. For members of the military, who are stationed in foreign countries and representing the U.S. government 24/7, these distinctions may be even harder to make.

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