Social Networking Sites...Handy but use properly

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Charles DeLapp
  • 56th Training Squadron
To many of us who have been greeted with an "ACCESS DENIED" page on our computers while trying to gather information online, it seems unimaginable that the U.S. Air Force and Defense Department have allowed access to social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. What are they thinking? These sites seem like an operations security and uniform code of military justice nightmare, not to mention the loss in productivity as Airmen spend hours surfing their Facebook page, finding out where their friends are and what they had to eat last night!

Are there really any benefits to allowing access to these sites? What kind of information should be posted, and more importantly, what kind of trouble can I get into for posting information on a social networking site? If you apply a few simple rules and a lot of common sense, you too can take advantage of social networking and stay out of trouble at the same time.

As far as the benefits, it is clear that today's society has little hesitation about posting a host of personal information online; some useful and insightful while other information is just worthless noise. The key is to leverage the capabilities that SNSs offer -- distributing information to a wide audience that you have selected.

For example, last weekend I was TDY to attend a graduation ceremony, and while I knew the event took place on Saturday and I knew where it was -- I was not aware of when it started. After a few unanswered phone calls, I decided to throw the question out on Facebook. Within a few minutes I had my answer. One of my friends had written on my wall, "Cocktails at 1730, dinner starts at 1830. See ya then." With 'smart phones', we are no longer tied to a computer and we have access to social networking sites anywhere there is cellular coverage -- which is how I got my answer.

As a commander, I've found that one of the quickest ways to find out when one of your squadron members is leaving the hospital after having a baby is to take a look on Facebook. Additionally, you can probably find out how the delivery went and what kind of assistance the family needs just by reading the posts. Which brings me to my second point; what kind of information should I post on SNSs, and can I be held liable?

The U.S. Air Force and DOD have published guidance on access as well as guidelines for content posted on-line. If you haven't seen it, be sure to contact your commander or first sergeant. The bottom-line is that you can be held responsible and be punished under the UCMJ for any improper use or engaging in prohibited activity via social media sites (e.g. pornography, gambling, hate-related crimes).

One more thing to keep in mind is that once it is posted, it becomes permanent, attributable and very traceable! I've seen the down-side to social media and web pages at my previous base. A squadron member's spouse decided to "air" all of their grievances with squadron and wing leadership on the squadron's web-group -- who were all members of the group. If you wouldn't stand up in a commander's call and air the same grievances, you probably shouldn't post them online.

A simple way to think about how often to access and what information to share would be to ask yourself, would I share the same information on a phone call? It is improper to spend hours on end at work taking unofficial phone calls, and we obviously do not discuss sensitive or classified information over the phone. We've been trained to use the government phone system for official business and the same rules should apply to social media Web sites.