Forum on Obama spurs Army review of AKO site
By MATT MILLHAM | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 25, 2013
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — In the midst of last year’s election, somebody started a thread on the Army’s internal website bashing President Barack Obama’s record.
Hundreds of responses were posted before somebody complained to the site’s authorities. Ever since, the blogs and forums on the Army site have been disabled.
Army Knowledge Online has hosted discussion forums for a decade. For the most part, they were a free-wheeling space barely monitored by the Army.
“The idea was, that it could be fairly open and that people could start a forum,” said Douglas Wiltsie, who oversees the site as the Army’s program executive officer for enterprise information systems.
“They were self-monitored by the people that established the forums and we were not spending a lot of activity reviewing what was either in the title or what was … actually being discussed,” he said.
According to Erin Wieczorek, a spokeswoman for the systems office, there were approximately 117,000 forums containing more than 164,000 topics and over 1.6 million messages when they were taken offline in September.
Subjects ranged widely, from infantry tactics to promotions and religion — a forum topic Stars and Stripes documented in 2008. Wiltsie used the forums himself, posting in subjects on system engineering and battle command. “It’s a great way to collaborate, which is the important piece,” he said.
But not everyone was using them in accordance with federal and Defense Department guidelines.
The forum that caused the complaint, titled “Obama’s failed presidency,” had 719 responses before it was disabled.
“When you look at it, very clearly, anything that deals with partisan political activity can’t be done on government posts using government equipment,” Wiltsie said.
His team tried to develop a search algorithm that would filter out banned banter for review by AKO staff, who would decide whether a post adhered to regulations — among them the Hatch Act and the Army Knowledge Management and Information Technology regulation, both of which disallow the use of government resources for partisan political activity, according to officials.
“And the issue we ran into very clearly with our legal folks was, ‘How do you train those people? How do you set that criteria, and how do you make those decisions as you go forward?’”
And that, he said, triggered a larger, Army-level review of what should and shouldn’t be allowed on AKO.
“Social media has changed significantly from when AKO first came out. And there are a lot of things in the public domain that weren’t available then,” Wiltsie said. “And so there needs to be a review by the leadership as to what does make sense and what doesn’t make sense” to post on the site.
Wiltsie thinks the forums and blogs will come back.
“I don’t know how they’ll be modified yet until we see the policy review,” he said, “and then we’ll let everybody know.”