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Pentagon Ban Muzzles War Voices May 16, 2007

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Essays, News, Social Media, Web Video, YouTube.

The Pentagon has banned Internet traffic on its military computer networks in a move critics call an attempt to muzzle troops delivering bad news or receiving it from videos posted by Iraqi insurgents on the Web. For sure it’s a step closer to the reality that the Web is the new battle space for information and ideas as are bombs and bullets in the field.

From today, the Pentagon bans soldiers serving overseas from using its computer system to socialise and trade videos. The American military is raising its profile on YouTube, posting official footage “to show another side of operations in Iraq beyond news reports of ‘the car bomb of the day.’

The popular video-sharing platform YouTube is one of 12 Web sites off limits. Others include MySpace, photo-sharing site Photobucket, videos sites Metacafe and IFilm, MTV and several other music sites. BlackPlanet.com, a social networking site popular among African-Americans, is also banned.

A Pentagon memo cites an overabundance of “recreational traffic,” saying use of those sites “impacts our official DoD network and bandwidth ability, while posing a significant operational security challenge.”

Okay, too many soldiers may be goofing off online and choking up bandwidth and posing a security risk. But it’s not rocket science to get around these obstacles. Plenty of other sites are out there, including proxies like YouTube Proxy.

Why do some folks always have to view things as an attack on liberties? The Pentagon has legitimate tech concerns, and soldiers are still free to communicate what they see without live footage. No one is muzzling the soldiers, only their Internet access — which companies do all their time to their employees.

News to the troops has been blocked right along. It’s important to do so in order to keep up morale, and the only way to do that is to keep them from knowing what’s going on. Just imagine what would happen if they found out why they are really there in the Middle East.

The US military has always barred members from sharing information that could jeopardise their missions or safety, but the new policy creates a blanket ban on soldiers exchanging messages, pictures, video and audio with family and friends, which could also be seen by millions around the world.

The latest ban and last month’s revision of Pentagon blogging policy prompt questions about whether military leaders are trying to muzzle voices of individual soldiers by making it more difficult to publish their own material.

Internet use has become a troublesome issue for the US military as it struggles to balance security concerns with privacy rights. As blogs and video-sharing become more common, the military has voiced increasing concern about service members revealing details about military operations or other information about equipment or procedures that will aid the enemy.

Soldiers and others in Iraq have been by passing traditional journalists via the Internet, posting videos and sharing views with the world, uncensored and unfiltered. YouTube has about 35,200 videos carrying Iraq as a keyword, many of which have been viewed more than 100,000 times. These videos are seeing more traffic from people hoping to understand the war through soldiers’ eyes.

Video-sharing Web sites are home to some of the most striking images from the war. Video showing the hanging of Saddam Hussein found a worldwide audience thanks to such sites, a citizen witness with a camera phone. The cockpit video of a U.S. pilot’s accidental attack on British troops, originally released by a British newspaper, almost instantly streamed around the globe.

As the Web has allowed more people to share their views, it has actually helped polarize opinions on the war. “With so many voices all at once, people had little difficulty finding those viewpoints that mirrored their own,” said Ralph Berenger, a journalism professor who has researched the role of the Internet in covering the Iraq war and other international conflicts..

Not all who post video online have an ax to grind. Some just needed to get the terror and horror out of their heads. Some are part tribute and part documentary. Many more are for fun and satire. They represent the best voices from the grassroots.

Whether they are music clips poking fun at compulsory military service in Singapore or a poignant video tribute to a soldier killed in a war waged by a Superpower, citizen-generated web videos have come to represent a postmodern phenomenon that draws its roots from an ancient impulse to share stories through image, word and sound to make sense of an uncertain world.



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