By Sadie E. Bleistein, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs OfficerMarch 2, 2010
Though Army Gen. George Washington was not able to ask for the support of the American public via a tweet, he was way ahead of the social media game when it came to accepting friend and group requests.
"Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for 'tis better to be alone than in bad company," he said.
A recent find in our social media communities has been the use of military support Facebook groups as the construction site for houses of adversary propaganda through violent, anti-American posts, videos and photos. What makes it scarier is friends and families have welcomed the invitation without looking at the pictures hanging on the walls or the violent movies playing on the television.
As members of the military community, there is an obligation to constantly be aware of your surroundings, whether it is talking to someone you can relate to in a foreign land or joining a relatable social media group in Facebook land. Many group sites offer positive causes to support, so does it really matter what content is hidden between info boards and discussions within their pages'
After all, who actually goes in and reads a page after jumping on a viral page bandwagon that all of our other Facebook friends have joined.
"In today's information environment, we place a lot of emphasis on our identities, and the image or reputation we want to portray," said Brig. Gen. Lewis M. Boone, U.S. Army deputy chief of public affairs. "The latter is just human nature. So the question becomes, why would anyone want to take a chance and make a spot judgment on just the name of a particular group, without understanding what its content is' The consequences could very well take a long time to rectify."
The freedom to speak without censorship and limitation does not only refer to verbal speech, but any medium used. Some servicemembers would say that guidance and restrictions to posting and writing on these boards, or even reporting them, would be a violation of the human rights law.
"If you are a soldier, you do have rights to free speech," said Boone. "But use common sense when giving your opinions. Because you are a soldier, you can quickly become a spokesman or representative of all 1.4 million of us who wear the uniform. And the media will quickly help you get the word out, whether you want it or not, for good, or for bad."
Not to mention, Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities reads, "You will not post content that is hateful, threatening, pornographic, or that contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence. You will not use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious, or discriminatory."
You hold the right to report anything that violates the above stated responsibilities.
Critics of the military's adopted "new" means of communication through social media exploit these adversary sites as exactly the reasons why we should not use such programs claiming there is a lack of education within the ranks. These means of communication could violate operational security and cause other negative impacts on mission readiness.
Given the widespread use of social media, leaders should educate their soldiers on the responsible use of social media, not to regulate or discourage a differing viewpoint, but to reinforce that as representatives of their country, they are held to a higher standard, said Boone.
In certain situations, soldiers can be held accountable for their remarks or actions in the social media arena. However, leaders should not impose limits, forbid or otherwise bar the use of social media in their units.
If there are questions on what is, or is not appropriate, there are venues to inquire without sanction. It's always best to "think before you post." Your public affairs office is a great place to start if you have questions concerning social media.
So as our leaders have in the past, associate yourself with friends and groups of good quality if you esteem your own reputation, for 'tis better to have Tom of Myspace be your only friend, than be in bad company.