Who is looking at your social network site
By Staff Sgt. Armando Vasquez, 108th PAO
/ Published December 05, 2009
Dec. 5, 2009 -- It is late in the evening on a nice summer day, and a service member hears some news about an upcoming event. Being a part of the new generation of service members in the military, one which shares their thoughts, actions, and feelings via the social network sites available on the Internet, the service member quickly runs to their computer and posts the news on their Facebook profile page and Tweets the message on their Twitter account.
Seconds pass and streams of responses come from the long list of friends the service member has on their network. Some responses come from their next-door neighbor, while others come from as far away as Europe, the Middle East, and/or Asia. Wow, the service member can't believe some friends are awake that early in Hong Kong. But they sure are.
The world has become a very small place in part thanks to the Internet and the many outlets available to release information. Globalization has taken on a whole new meaning because of these social networking sites.
While the military is trying to embrace this new phenomenon, knowing that future service members are inclined to use these types of sites much faster than the older generation, there are concerns with privacy, material, and or content a service member puts out on their social network site. In addition, the military has concerns for operational security matters that a service member might unintentionally post on these popular sites. Be it information about their current location, training schedules, or photos of a military installation.
Today, Facebook has an estimated 350 million users worldwide, according to Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg. Twitter is ranked as one of the 50 most popular sites on the Internet and MySpace had reached the 100 million user count in 2006.
Because these popular social network sites are free, anyone can set up an account an add friends to their networks. This allows the user to view the profile and content posted on their friends' sites.
Recently, the U.S. Marine Corps banned the use of these sites and other social network sites on the Marine Corps Enterprise Network NIPRNET. The Marine Corps order read, "With information so readily available, concerns arise regarding privacy, material, and or content one puts out on this social media networking sites. The very nature of SNS [social network sites] creates a larger attack and exploitation window, exposes unnecessary information to adversaries and provides an easy conduit for information leakage that puts OPSEC [operational security], COMSEC [communications security], [and] personnel... at an elevated risk of compromise."
The U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army have not taken this approach, as high ranking officials find value on these sites. Having an Airman or soldier able to tell the military side of the story is crucial when combating negative opinion. In addition, these sites have been used for recruiting purposes by both the Air Force and the Army.
Consequently, the Air Force Publics Affairs Agency has engaged the utilization of their PA professionals to guide their Airmen when discussing the Air Force on-line. Moreover, Airmen are encouraged to reference their Airman's Manual or read AFI 35-101 for further guidance relating to this matter.
Some of the guidelines encouraged by the AFPAA are to ensure that Airmen are not posting classified material on their social network sites. Airmen should stay in their lanes when posting comments, or in other words, don't post information about things one is not an expert on. Clearly identify yourself, but relay the message that it's your opinion and not representative of the Air Force's opinion. Be aware of the image you represent when posting photos or videos by ensuring your uniform is properly worn and that no negative or unsafe activities are occurring around you.
In essence, use common sense and always remember one is an Airman 24-hrs a day, 365 days a year. Any information put out on the Internet are viewable by millions of people around the world instantly, and once posted out there, it's out there for good.