From the moment I “crossed into the blue” many years ago, the Department of Defense (DoD) has stressed how important following Operational Security (OPSEC) and information security (INFOSEC) guidelines are to the integrity of our national security systems. We had to use discretion when sharing official info with anyone-other DoD agencies, partners, friends and neighbors. Still do. You never know who is listening around the corner or halfway around the globe. This is especially true today, with advanced info-gathering (snooping) technology available to anyone with a credit card. Even with tight controls designed to prevent someone from accidentally or intentionally sharing sensitive information in place, some of it makes its way onto less secure, less appropriate Web sites, thumb drives, or other media.
Cue Edward Snowden.
The military understands that social media is an inexpensive, powerful way to reach many people from all walks of life with the click of a mouse. Not a bad way to spread the word, especially given the deep cuts to its budget. However, the ease of doing so makes it uneasy doing so. Therefore, rules regarding the information its troops are allowed to post on Facebook, Vine, YouTube and other social networking sites had to be put in place, and enforced.
Back in 2010, the DoD released Directive-Type Memorandum (DTM) 09-029: Responsible and Effective Use of Internet-based Capabilities, which included guidelines governing how personnel should use social networking services.1 One thing is clear through the DTM and subsequent Social Media Policy- the rules aren’t intended to limit free speech, but only to make sure that the information posted doesn’t compromise operational security.2 All official social media sites must be registered with the DoD, disclaimers posted to pages, and several other boilerplate requirements. All in all, our armed forces do a pretty good job of balancing free speech without sacrificing security…if those using these and personal sites post responsibly.
Ah, but there’s the rub. The big “if”.
The success of social media is due to its ability to facilitate meaningful (at times) and entertaining conversations between people and organizations. People talk to one another as they would to their neighbors, friends and family-in many cases, they are posting to their friends’ and neighbors’ sites. The downside of the DoD’s foray into this community is that it must rely on individuals that have access to sensitive information to consider the ramifications of posting geo-tagged pics of their unit in Afghanistan before hitting “post”. That pic could lead to the bad guys doing just that…hitting your post, base, unit or vehicle with something very unpleasant.
Many of us are used to posting anything that comes to mind, as it comes to mind, on Facebook. I’m glad that you had orange juice with your toast today instead of coffee…really, I am. Some, however, forget that free (flowing) speech can cause you problems on the job or at home. In May 2003, a former Marine and several active duty Marines were investigated by the Secret Service for online threats against President Obama, their commander-in-chief…their boss. They were referred to their commanding officers for non-judicial punishment — an act that could have a wide range of consequences from being made to rake leaves to demotion in rank or dismissal from the service.3 They should’ve used their “inside voice” that day. The Army Reserve’s social media team sees quite a few inappropriate comments and use their professional judgment and expertise to determine whether to delete a post, or leave it be in the spirit of free speech.
These outliers aside, the people creating, monitoring and using social media are doing so productively-allowing the DoD to reach millions with its messages, initiatives, stories, and questions about what people did over the weekend. Its understanding and appreciation of text, IM, video, and imagery-based social media applications’ ROI to the force and its families mean that it will continue to be used as an effective communication tool for the foreseeable future. Hootsuite, Tweetdeck and other social media dashboards help the DoD to monitor, evaluate, listen to, and share the messages, videos, photos and other content posted to sites. The statistics generated by them helps communication directors, public affairs officers, marketing gurus and others leveraging the power of the post to justify their piece of the social media pie…and their jobs. Most importantly, they help determine whether they’re speaking to the right people at the right time, and getting the right results.
- Deputy Secretary of Defense. (2010). Responsible and Effective Use of Internet-based Capabilities (Directive-Type Memorandum (DTM) 09-0226). Retrieved from http://www.defense.gov/news/dtm%2009-026.pdf
- Corrin, A. (2012). DoD’s new policy ‘likes’ social media, but with caveats. FCW. Retrieved from http://fcw.com/Articles/2012/08/15/FEAT-Inside-DOD-social-media-policy.aspx?Page=1
- Marines investigated for online threats against Obama. (2013). Retrieved February 9, 2014 from http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2013/05/28/Marines-investigated-for-online-threats-against-Obama/UPI-32511369767979/