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US Army's Pyrrhic social media strategy.

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Chris Vallance | 23:05 UK time, Wednesday, 2 May 2007

A while ago a milblogger I know quite well politely declined an interview request: three of his soldiers had just been killed, he was writing their memorial service.

We communicated via Instant Message, he was in Iraq while I was desk producing a radio programme in London, struggling to fill air-time with a fairly typical mix of "he said, she said" political rows and stories about skateboarding dogs, for example.

Earlier I'd seen the news of the deaths flash on wires. A bland statement of the facts. Like hundreds of agency reports popping up on the newsgathering system, instantly forgetable. But I remember the IM conversation, I remember the sympathy I felt for the blogger, and the way it enlarged my understanding of the terrible responsibilities of his job.

The point of this story? Well the US military has decided to issue new rules on blogs, most are interpreting it as a "clamp down". We shall find out more after the milblogging conference in DC this weekend where I imagine it will be a hot topic.

At the same time the US military has launched it's own YouTube channel. In the eyes of many it giveth with the one hand and taketh away with the other.

This dual response is so typical of organisations as they wrestle with Web2.0: a desire to engage but an inability to let go of the idea of central control.

Yet central control destroys the great PR advantage of blogging, its authenticity. The milblogs by showing the human stories behind the conflict have surely only done good things for the image of the military.

Should we lose the milblogs, we'll have lost an important aspect of our coverage of the conflict. The military will seem less human, and our understanding of war's consequences and complexities will be diminished.


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