Social Media Multiplies Opportunities

October 21, 2009
By Maryann Lawlor
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The commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard is simply enthralled with the opportunities social networking platforms offer. Adm. Thad W. Allen, USCG, opened the final day of MILCOM 2009 by explaining that it took some time for him to move into the Web 2.0 realm, but now that he's there, he understands that it is a domain that all military leaders must learn to use. "We have to understand that the changes in technology, computation and so forth have created what I call a fundamental change in our social atmosphere. If you think about social media-Web 2.0 or whatever you want to call it-I have said on many occasions that this is not just a change in technology; this is not a new product line; this is not a new way of marketing technology. This is a fundamental change in our social atmosphere that is as fundamental as climate change is to our environment," he stated. Once military leaders accept this fact, they will realize that their only choice is to adapt and understand what the technology presents in terms of both risks and opportunities. They can then manage it and move forward, he added. As in climate change, only three options are available: suffer, adapt or manage. It was congressional hearings based on information on blogs that prompted Adm. Allen to change how the Coast Guard was dealing with social media. "The Internet is forever. A blog post is like non-biodegradable plastic. You cannot change it, and you cannot control the entry into that environment. What you can do is adapt and manage," he stated. This is the tack that Adm. Allen decided to take for his service. The permanence of information on the Web and the ability for adversaries to use the Internet to disseminate misinformation means that the military must find new ways to manage these problems. Referring to "Where's Waldo?"-a series of books that challenge readers to find a single character hidden in an extremely cluttered background-the admiral suggested that while the military can't change Waldo-in this case the misinformation on the Web-it can at least increase the background clutter with correct information to make it harder to find, he suggested. "You have to proactively make information available to your people," Adm. Allen stated. "The more you can make information transparent, the more you're going to breed self-correcting behavior into your organizations." While he is sometimes criticized for this viewpoint because it can sound as if he endorses opening the floodgates on all information, most people understand that this is not possible because of both security and privacy issues. "In spite of some criticisms that have been leveled at me in the Internet world regarding transparency, I subscribe to it, I maintain it and we try to move in that direction, understanding that there will always be limits to how much you can make any organization transparent," Adm. Allen stated. When information is readily available, an organization's members understand what the leaders want and are more likely to head in the right direction. "And I will just tell you that is the ultimate in convergence," he added.

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