Social Media 101: No such thing as 'Virtual'

This online world is often referred to as “virtual” -- as if what we do on the internet or our mobile devices isn’t quite real. Unfortunately, that’s an illusion that can be costly. From identity theft and fraud to bullying and sexual predators, life in the “virtual” world can have very real impacts. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Brittany Curry)

This online world is often referred to as “virtual” -- as if what we do on the internet or our mobile devices isn’t quite real. Unfortunately, that’s an illusion that can be costly. From identity theft and fraud to bullying and sexual predators, life in the “virtual” world can have very real impacts. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Brittany Curry)

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

Being “online” has become as natural a part of life for most Americans as watching TV or listening to the radio on the way to work. According to the Global Web Index, three out of every four of us actively use at least one social media site, and about two thirds of us are active smart phone users.

This online world is often referred to as “virtual” -- as if what we do on the internet or our mobile devices isn’t quite real.

Unfortunately, that’s an illusion that can be costly. From identity theft and fraud to bullying and sexual predators, life in the “virtual” world can have very real impacts.

That is especially true for military members and families. The risks and realities of life online can have serious and lasting consequences. Often those threats are external -- scam artists, thieves and even terrorist organizations, for example. Sometimes, however, we are our own worst enemies.

Here are some tips, tricks and advice to help you stay safe online, both from external threats and from self-inflicted harm.

                                                              

Maintain Your Privacy

We’d all like to think that access to our password-protected social media accounts are limited to the people we “like” or “friend.” Unfortunately, it’s just not true -- at best, our social media profiles are open to our friends’ friends. Just do the math, though, and even that can be disconcerting. The average Facebook user has about 330 friends, which means if you’re an average user, about 108,000 people can access your profile.

That’s assuming your privacy and security settings are updated and locked down. Most aren’t.

So what can you do?

  1. Actively manage and regularly review the privacy settings for all social networks, mobile applications and web sites you use.

  2. Do not post personally identifiable information (PII) -- yours or others’ -- such as dates of birth, addresses, phone numbers or email addresses.

  3. Be mindful of what you post. For example, posting vacation pictures can alert potential thieves that you are not at home; posting information about your child’s regular activities (practices, rehearsals, home-alone times, etc.) can give predators information they can use to target your family.

  4. Assume that everyone will see what you post -- if you wouldn’t say it or show it to your parents, your neighbor or your boss, you probably shouldn’t post it.

  5. Be careful with widgets. They may have different privacy settings than the social media site itself, and may give access to your profile to many more people than you intend.

For more information about privacy, including information about privacy settings on popular social network sites, go to http://dodcio.defense.gov/Social-Media/Social-Media-Education-and-Training/

 

Apply OPSEC Online

The easy accessibility, popularity and its public nature combine to make social media a major operations security risk. One innocent, well-intended but careless post can potentially put a mission, an individual or an entire unit at risk.

Think that’s an exaggeration? Consider the implications of a military spouse posting something as simple as, “Half my heart is in Afghanistan.”

Alone, it doesn’t offer much. But it’s probably fairly easy to identify who the spouse is from the same profile. From that profile, it’s likely you can tell what base and even what unit the Airman is assigned to, and very possibly what career field. Before long, and in combination with other information gleaned from other social media profiles, an enemy can get a surprisingly good picture of what’s going on.

So what can you do?

  1. Apply your OPSEC training. We’ve all had it, but it’s pointless unless we use it. There’s no more important venue to apply OPSEC than online and with social media.

  2. Remember that in today’s military, OPSEC is a family affair. Talk to your spouse, parents, children, significant others and extended family about their roles and responsibility. The online presentation, “OPSEC for Families” is a good resource to help -- go to http://www.slideshare.net/DepartmentofDefense/opsec-for-families.

  3. Turn off geo-tagging or location-based “check-in” services. Many cell phone cameras automatically tag photos with GPS coordinates unless you turn that functionality off. In addition, social media sites and many mobile applications use your phone’s GPS capability to know where you are, so be careful which apps you use and whether they’re allowed to access this functionality.

  4. Don’t post work schedules, itineraries or travel plans, especially if related to deployments.

  5. Be aware of backgrounds in photos. You may be unintentionally revealing sensitive or even classified information, and it might also reveal where you are and what you’re doing.

  6. Apply the mantra, “When in doubt, throw it out.” If you’re even the least bit uncomfortable about whether to post something, then don’t.

Want more information on OPSEC and social media? Go to http://dodcio.defense.gov/Social-Media/Social-Media-Education-and-Training/

 

Govern Yourself

For whatever reason, people tend to say or post things online that they would never say to an actual person. Social media can give us a sense of anonymity and distance that is deceiving, leading us to behave in ways we normally wouldn’t.

The real truth is, the same rules that apply to face-to-face conversations apply to social media. Similarly, posting something to social media is not terribly different than publishing something in a newspaper. All of us need to be mindful that what we say online is not “virtual” at all, but very real.

Air Force Instruction 1-1 give plain guidance to social media use for Air Force members.

“You are personally responsible for what you say and post on social networking services and any other medium. Regardless of the method of communication used, Air Force standards must be observed at all times, both on and off-duty.”

 

What does this mean in practical reality?

 

For one example, the restrictions that apply to military members and federal employees regarding political activity apply to social media and other online interactions.

 

Generally speaking active duty members can express personal views on public issues or political candidates on social media. If the post or the profile clearly identifies them as an active duty member, however, they must clearly and prominently state that the views expressed are those of the individual only and not those of the Department of Defense or the Air Force. In short, they must avoid any implication of DoD or Air Force endorsement.

 

Members are also prohibited from engaging in partisan political activity. Online, this means a member may “friend,” “like” or “follow” a candidate or party, but may not make direct posts or links to or on behalf of the sites of those candidates, parties, campaigns, etc. Nor may they invite or suggest that others like, friend or follow those parties, or engage in any kind of fundraising for them. These all amount to “partisan political activity.”

 

Another example of where face-to-face and online behavior sometimes conflict relates to showing proper respect for leaders, whether NCOs, officers or civilian leaders. The simple rule of thumb here is that if you wouldn’t say it in front of your commander, don’t say it online.

 

It is one thing, for example, to express disagreement with a policy or decision. It is quite another to defame a person. “I disagree with my unit’s decision to change the color of our morale day shirt” is perfectly fine. “Chief Smith is a [expletive] moron” is not. The same goes for elected and appointed civilian leaders.

 

Again, don’t be fooled by the illusion of anonymity and distance that social media can present. Saying or posting it online “counts” every bit as saying it face to face. Assume your commander is going to read everything you post, and act accordingly.

 

Need more information? Go to http://dodcio.defense.gov/Social-Media/Social-Media-Education-and-Training/

 

 

Base Resources for Advice and Assistance

 

There are a number of local resources and offices that can help you with your social media questions, including:

 

  • Your unit OPSEC monitor

  • The Public Affairs Office, 676-2732 or 82trw.pa@us.af.mil

  • The Legal Assistance Office, 676-4262 or visit Building 315.

  • The 82nd Security Forces Squadron Information Protection Office, 676-3514