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Air Force, Marines advance on social networks

Following an official OK from the Pentagon, the Air Force and Marines are now allowing military personnel to access social sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Be open, but be careful. That's the watchword for those serving in the Air Force and in the Marines, who can now tweet and use Facebook for official military business and authorized personal matters.

The U.S. Air Force is slowly and cautiously opening its network to social media sites, starting this week with five bases in the Pacific, to be followed by a wider rollout later in April, according to the Air Force's official Web site. The U.S. Marine Corps, meanwhile, this week opened up full access to all personnel, says the Marine Corps Times.

The freedom to use sites like Facebook and Twitter, or to access personal e-mail accounts, follows an official memo from the Department of Defense released late February, authorizing the use of social networks among military personnel. The DOD has found that social networking sites increasingly are becoming valuable tools for those in the military to communicate amongst themselves, with other agencies, and with the general public, according to the Air Force.

Military personnel now have the blessing of the Pentagon to check their Twitter accounts. United States Army

Less than a year ago, the Defense Department was considering an all-out ban on social-networking sites, and the Marines actually did impose a ban, according Wired's Danger Room blog.

During the initial test run in the Pacific, the Air Force said it will track and review the access to social-networking sites to guard against potential risks and also to help develop further guidelines on their proper use. Concerned about the potential for malware, the Air Force's Space Command Headquarters (AFSPC) will be responsible for securing Internet access on the Air Force network.

"The Air Force will limit or restrict the use of Internet-based capabilities as needed to defend against malicious activity or for operational considerations," said Brig. Gen. David Warner, AFSPC communications and information director and chief information officer, in a statement. "Assuring the Air Force missions that rely on cyberspace is our number one priority."

Those serving in the Air Force will be able to fully use sites like Facebook and Twitter for official military reasons. But they'll have to get approval from a supervisor before they can use such sites for personal reasons. Further, they must be careful that personal use doesn't affect their military duties, overtax the network, or put the Air Force in a bad light.

The Marine's social networking policies strike a similar tone. Marine personnel can use Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other sites, as well as online tools such as Google Apps, for official reasons as well as personal communications. But personal use requires approval from a supervisor or commander and can't interfere with regular duties.

Marines can't use the Marine Corps logo or official symbols on their personal sites, since such use may give the impression of endorsement by the Corps. Web sites with explicit sexual content and those that post hate speech or military extremism will be blocked, according to the Marine Corps Times.

And like the Air Force, the Marine Corp is proceeding cautiously.

"Unlike organizations that block access to social networking for financial or resource reasons, compromises to the Marine Corps' Enterprise Network raises serious issues for protecting the safety and lives of our Marines," said Maj. Gen. George Allen, chief information officer for the Marine Corps, in a statement. "We do have a responsibility to ensure that we use the Internet in a responsible way, and that means ensuring our Marines are educated on information assurance and operations security. This policy will provide the best of both worlds--a trained force that can use the many capabilities of the Internet."