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British soldiers cautioned about social networking

The British Ministry of Defense has issued guidelines encouraging soldiers to think before they poke. It says it is merely reminding them not to post any sensitive information.

If you thought the British Army's upper lip was always stiffer than its bayonets, then you might be jolted upright by a new development.

The British Ministry of Defense has expressed its concern that soldiers might betray the nation's secrets on Facebook and MySpace. Many British newspapers are relaying soldiers' dismay at a new directive that appears to prevent them from networking socially.

A serviceman enjoying the winter in Afghanistan told the Sun: "The fun police have taken over. I can't talk to my wife and kids or even play Call of Duty 5. Do they really think we're going to give away secrets?"

Perhaps you, too, are wondering why someone trudging through a battlefield of dead bodies and opium would entertain himself by playing Call of Duty 5. Wouldn't that be a little like the owner of an Outback Steakhouse franchise having dinner at Burger King?

And here's how the British Army trains for its missions. (No, this picture was not on Facebook.) CC John Spooner

The chaps at the ministry have been swift to deny that there is an outright ban. They claim they are merely reminding soldiers not to put any sensitive information onto their news feed.

However, a swift perusal of the directive brings out the ministry's true intentions: "Service and Ministry of Defence civilian personnel are encouraged to use self-publishing on the Internet or similar channels to communicate with the public directly, but should ensure that the rules on prior authorization, conduct and behavior, collective and personal security, use of official IT, data protection, and communicating in public are followed."

Perhaps we all read officialese differently. My interpretation is that soldiers can post whatever they want on their Facebook pages. They can poke the president. They can upload dirty limericks and areola-free photography. There is only one teeny-tiny catch. They have to ask Daddy first.

They don't have directives like that on Call of Duty 5, do they?