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Pugil sticks, close order drill, bayonet training, martial arts: all play crucial roles in the arduous training regimen of the United States Marine Corps.

Now comes another battlefield fraught with hazard: online social networking.

To meet this 21st century challenge, the Corps has issued a 42-page handbook entitlted "The Social Corps, the U.S.M.C. Social Media Principles," accompanied by an elaborate new website.

Much of the advice is familiar to veteran web surfers, with a military twist:

"With social communication, you essentially provide a permanent record of what you say — if you wouldn’t say it in front of a formation, don’t say it online."

And don't even think about WikiLeaks.

"Posting or disclosing internal Marine Corps documents or information that the Marine Corps has not officially released to the public is prohibited — period. This policy applies no matter how a Marine comes into possession of a document.

"Some examples of this information are: memos, e-mails, meeting notes, message traffic, white papers, public affairs guidance, pre-decisional materials, investigatory information, and, most importantly, classified information."

Playing politics online is also a sensitive area:

"The Marine Corps encourages Marines to carry out their obligations as citizens – this includes politics.

"However, there are limitations to your political activity. You can express your political views on public issues or political candidates online, but not as part of an organized communication campaign. If your communication identifies you as a Marine you should clearly state the opinions are yours.

"You cannot solicit votes for or against a party, candidate or cause.

"In addition, you cannot participate in any interview or discussion as an advocate for or against a party, candidate or cause."

Officers are warned, "It’s against federal law for commissioned officers to communicate contemptuous words against the President, Vice President, Secretary of Defense, Deputy Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Navy, or Governor and Legislature of any state in which he or she is located or performing duty in."

The handbook is full of other handy tips, including how to set up official social networking sites, how to navigate Facebook, how to track YouTube hits, as well as how to maximize Twitter effects:

"Information on Twitter that people find interesting generates buzz. One of the ways Twitter users share content they find useful is by resending Tweets others have posted.

"Re-sending a Tweet is called Retweet.

"This process also increases other’s awareness of different communities, interests and popular trends online or in the news. Being retweeted or reciprocating other fellow Twitter user’s Tweets is one of the most important ways to achieve value on Twitter."

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