By Justin Creech, Belvoir EagleJanuary 19, 2012
The phenomenon known as social media is utilized by many different businesses, organizations and individuals.
Facebook, Twitter and Youtube are used as marketing tools since all have the ability to reach a wide ranging audience.
But, there are dangers that come with utilizing social media outlets, most notably for those associated with the military are security breaches.
The Army created the Online and Social Media Division within the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs to inform Soldiers of the dangers of social media and how they can protect themselves.
Memorandum 09026 authorized the use of social media platforms, to include Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and others, for official external online presence.
"What we do is produce multiple pieces of guidance so to speak," said Staff Sgt. Dale Sweetnam, Online and Social Median Division, Office of the Chief of Public Affairs. "We inform an Army leader what they need to know when using Facebook. What they need to inform their Soldiers on how to maintain a blog and dozens of other topics. That basically serves as the road map so that these organizations that are using it have a feel for what the right lanes are and where they need to stay."
OCPA produces the social media round up that comes out twice a month which deals with social media related topics. The topics covered include how you can set your Facebook settings to be safer or more inline with what the Army does. They also produced a 60 page social media handbook that goes into details on starting a Facebook page.
Being cautious with what is being posted on social media outlets is one of the main goals OCPA has for Soldiers since some information should not be made public.
"What we encourage everybody to do is to approach social media like we would approach a conversation with a stranger," said Sweetnam. "You have to be aware that operational security needs to be your primary concern. You're not going to be talking about missions or weapons capabilities and things like that. The enemy can take a screen shot and you can delete it after they take the shot, but once they have it they have it and that's actual intelligence."
Making sure Soldiers are cautious of what they post on their Facebook pages or Twitter accounts is important, but also who has the ability to view their profile pages and what they can see is vital as well.
Soldiers need to make sure they've personally met every person they accept a friend request from and have at least had a conversation with them.
"Just because you know the person's name doesn't mean a friend of a friend of a friend should be a friend of yours on Facebook," Sweetnam said. "That gets a lot of Soldiers and new users of Facebook in trouble. It's the idea that you are putting a lot of personal information out there. Once you allow somebody into that circle there is a lot they can find out about you."
Knowing how to use the privacy settings on Facebook is imperative, too. Soldiers are advised to set their privacy settings so only their Facebook friends can see anything of their profile page content.
"One mistake Soldiers make is making their pictures available for viewing for a friend of a friend," said Sweetnam. "Say the individual goes on Facebook and likes your photo. If you haven't unchecked it (adjusted your settings to control access), their friend can see that they commented on one of your photos and then (that person who isn't one of your friends) can see it. You can check a box (in the security settings) to make sure the only people that can comment and see your content are specifically your friend."
Soldiers also need to be mindful of not posting any negative comments about their superiors as well.
"That is the same thing as a Soldier standing up in a formation and bad mouthing a leader in front of the formation," said Sweetnam. "Uniform Code of Military Justice still applies to social media interactions."
Despite all of the potential pitfalls of social media, Sweetnam said OCPA is not trying to discourage Soldiers from using Facebook or any other social media outlet.
"We don't want to block use because it's a great way for Soldiers to communicate and organizations to communicate," said Sweetnam. "But, they need to do it with operational security as their primary concern."