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News > Feature - Social networking: A double-edged sword
Social networking: A double-edged sword

Posted 9/2/2011   Updated 9/2/2011 Email story   Print story


by Senior Airman Katherine Windish
31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

9/2/2011 - AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- As American Airmen, we are ambassadors in blue for the entire Air Force. Deliberate or not, each action we take is seen by someone who only sees the uniform we wear.

"People usually associate the person wearing the uniform with the service as a whole," said Paul Bove, social media strategist and senior Web developer at the Air Force Public Affairs Agency. "When a member of the public sees someone in uniform doing something wrong they don't look at them as a person, whoever they are, they see an Airman, a Soldier, a sailor, a Marine. Whatever they are doing ends up reflecting on their entire service."

This is not always a bad thing as Mr. Bove demonstrates in the Air Force's Facebook, Twitter, BlueTube and Flickr sites and the Air Force's blog, Air Force Live, where he and his staff highlight the great things that are done by Airmen every day.

"One of the great things about the military is that everyone can be a representative of their service," said Mr. Bove. "Which means we can use all servicemembers to spread the word and promote the military and the great things they do. We've reached out to a lot of Airmen already to get a different perspective on the stories we write and we're always looking for more."

This statement coincides with the Air Force's social media guidebook that says "Research shows traditional journalism is shifting and now uses the Web as a primary source for information. At larger papers, 57 percent of those surveyed said Web technology offers the potential for greater than ever real-time journalism."

This is why he encourages all Airmen to submit the photos, videos and stories they have taken or written on the job to afbluetube@gmail.com to perhaps be featured on the social networking websites run by the AFPAA.

However, Airmen still need to be leary of what they post on their own social networking sites and ensure the things they post do not bring discredit upon themselves or the Air Force or compromise operational security.

"I've seen YouTube videos of people in uniform partying and drinking, talking about religion and politics," said Mr. Bove. "These kinds of things don't put the Air Force in a good light and are examples of the negative aspects of social media."

Your audience when posting to public sites is enormous, with 500,000 people joining Facebook and MySpace daily and 70 percent of Americans 15 to 34 already actively involved with social networking sights, according to the Air Force's social media guidebook. While profiles set to private may seem personal, anything on the Web is publicly accessible.

According to the guidebook, "The Air Force views personal Web sites and blogs positively, and it respects the rights of Airmen to use them as a medium of self-expression. However, Airmen must abide by certain restrictions to ensure good order and discipline. All Airmen are on duty 24-hours a day, 365-days-a-year and all actions are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice."

"All Airmen need to remember they are a representative of the Air Force and as such, all comments made can be construed as the opinion of the Air Force," said Mr. Bove. "They need to keep in mind the vast numbers of people their message could reach."

To clarify what is acceptable and what is not, the Department of Defense and the Air Force are working together to create regulations and instructions for all DoD personnel. In the meantime, the following guidelines are presented by the guidebook to assist Airmen in engaging in online conversations.

- Always follow the site's user guidelines.
- Never post classified information or information that will compromise operational security (troop movement, force size, weapons details, etc.)
- Do not post any information protected by copyright laws - which last for the life of the author plus 70 years.
- Do not infringe upon trademark, service mark, certification mark, or other intellectual property rights of the owners.
- Do not violate privacy of others.
- Avoid endorsing products, opinions or causes while in uniform or using the name of the Air Force.
- Do not impersonate others by forging or otherwise manipulating identifiers.
- Use disclaimers, making clear to all readers that the views you express are yours alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Air Force.
- Only talk about what you know. Do not discuss areas of expertise for which you have no background or knowledge.
- Do not post any defamatory, libelous, vulgar, obscene, abusive, profane, threatening, racially, ethnically hateful or otherwise offensive or illegal information or material.
- Admit your mistakes by being the first to respond to your errors. Be up front and correct it quickly.
- Correct errors with fact rather than argument when you see misrepresentations made about the Air Force in social media. Make sure what you say is factual and is not disparaging.
- Always use your best judgment, remember that there are always consequences to what you write. You are on duty 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week and are always subject to the UCMJ.

According to the guidebook, "Airmen, by the nature of the business, are always on the record and must always represent the core values, even on the Web: integrity first, service before self and excellence in all that is done."

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