Social Media-Information Highway

Most services have social media guidelines, but no established rules. The guidelines provided are designed primarily to avoid service members and their families from divulging details about military deployments and operations publicly.

The term the military uses for this is OPSEC, or Operations Security. Posting updates as seemingly harmless as “My husband just arrived safely at Bagram,” “My wife made it through the Suez Canal and is out of the Middle East,” “I’m so proud that my husband completed his first mission,” or “Only two weeks until my wife arrives home!” can give enemies detailed information when combined with knowledge of a service member’s unit, location, or job description. Such information has been used by insurgents to plan their own operations. Even photographs taken by service members abroad may have geotags embedded in their computer code that can give others the precise location where the picture was taken, and re-posting them will give that information a wider chance of being exploited. Because social media sites are public and widely accessible, they are plentiful mines of information for enemies. And remember, when others re-post your updates or pictures (even when they ‘like’ them on your profile), whatever information you’ve given out is now beyond your control.

Spouses and families may learn operational details from either service members or the unit itself–though it may seem like it, the military does not desire to keep families ‘in the dark.’ As a general rule, do not mention specific dates or locations when posting about a service member, and do not mention ANYTHING about what they’ve been doing. Don’t say they’ve been flying at night, or that they’re moving somewhere new and will be off social media for a while, or that they just completed a successful (or unsuccessful) mission. Don’t ‘talk around’ such information by alluding to it without saying something directly. Don’t mention the date they leave, or when they expect to get back, or how they’re traveling (even how they travel between deployment locations). And especially do NOT mention anything about injuries or deaths. Not only is such information valuable intelligence to adversaries, but also it may unfairly notify the relations of the deceased before the designated representative of the United States can do so, or (worse) cause the wrong person to believe their service member is dead or wounded. Generally, installations go “river city” in such events, physically shutting down networks to prevent information getting out until it can be done properly.

There are other considerations. Everything that goes on social media is public, even with guarded profiles, and ‘taking it down’ does not remove it from Internet caches for several months. Once a piece of information or a picture is posted, it is there permanently. Complaining about a service member’s command, or making accusations of personnel in the command may lead to an investigation (or at the very least embarrass the service member). The military has prosecuted service members for conduct violations made public through social media. And finally, remember families who share publicly that their service member is gone make themselves vulnerable to criminals in their community.

Specific social media guidelines for military families:

– Make your profiles private to prevent non-friends from accessing your posts. Remember that your friends’ profiles may not be private, so be careful what you post on their sites. Also, remember that even the most private profiles may be accessed by simply typing in the specific web address.

– Post as you wish about yourself, your perspective, and your (non-military) friends, but don’t post about your service member. If you mention your service member at all, limit your posts to very general information. For example, their service branch and their job, or general items about duty stations. Don’t even make public your unit.

– If a fellow military family member posts something indiscreet, it doesn’t mean that ‘it’s now ok to talk about.’ Practically, two postings are more easily found by enemies than one. Also, if you get word from an official representative (such as the FRO or FRG), that is not ‘ok to post’ either–it may be information for the benefit of families, but not for public consumption.

– If you are confused about whether something is ok to post or not, contact your FRO or FRG representative.

These guidelines may take much of the fun out of social media, but remember that you are protecting your service member and his/her unit. The less others know about your service member and you, the less harm they can do (if they wish it). To reiterate, enemies of the United States and criminals within its borders have become very adept at mining social media for information. Don’t give it to them.


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