Expanded digital access requires same common sense

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Social networking sites are open to Air Force servicemembers and employees in the workplace. United States Air Forces Europe opened access to social media sites May 10.

This change to policy has raised many questions about using social media officially and personally in the workplace.

"The Air Force has opened what is being referred to as Internet-based capabilities, which are publicly accessible information and applications available on the Internet that are not owned, operated or controlled by the Department of Defense or federal government," said Tech. Sgt. Scott Sheldon, 31st Fighter Wing Information Assurance noncommissioned officer in charge. "A variety of social media resources are now available, such as YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter to name a few."

When you get right down to it, however, little has changed. The rules established for Internet use at work are no different than before Air Force officials opened access to social media sites.

The guidance provided in the recently updated Air Force Guidance Memorandum, Responsible and Effective Use of Internet Based Capabilities is just as true for visiting commercial Web sites for personal use on government computers as for using Internet-based services to access social media on those same computers. Personal use of social media sites must be of reasonable duration and frequency that have been approved by supervisors and do not adversely affect performance of official duties, overburden systems, or reflect unfavorably on the Air Force.

What you can or can't say really hasn't changed, either. Guidance found in the 35-series AFIs still offers the primary guidance for public release of information and covers official Web management policy.

Though little has changed in the rules, the tools have come a long way from the early days of government commercial Internet use. In the earliest days of the Internet, forums and bulletin boards were popular ways of sharing information, but they took time to connect, download and upload. Use was limited to people who understood computers.

Today's social networking arguably has become the fastest way to disseminate and share a variety of information. The exchange of information is nearly instantaneous. Its accessibility and speed allows us to fire and forget without much thought as to what we say or do.

From a personal standpoint, you may say something that upsets someone or post personal information you may not have really wanted to share. From a professional and official standpoint, this can be dangerous and could cause problems for people far removed from the initial post.

There are more than a few common-sense tips to remember that can help keep people out of trouble in the social networking world, and at the same time help tell the Air Force story while communicating with family and friends.

Most importantly, think about what you say before you say it. Your words live forever on the Internet.

Everything that applies to other forms of communication applies to the Internet social networking atmosphere as well. Simply think of all the annual briefings you get about operations security, political activity, privacy act and other topics. Ask, "Is this allowed in other forms of communication?" If you aren't sure, it's a good bet you should get additional guidance before posting to a social networking site.

We're proud of our profession and want everyone to know that we're part of the Air Force, but putting your rank and your name in your profile on a social networking site has some unintended implications.

A Facebook page with the user name "Chief Master Sgt. J. Suchnsuch" is likely to be viewed as an official site. The same page with the username of "J. Suchnsuch," and profile information that includes rank and position is much less likely to be viewed by the public as official.

"Operational security is very important because with the addition of social media, we are entering an area that is known to be a favorite for malicious software, scams and identity theft," said 2nd Lt. Brian Wagner, 31st FW Public Affairs deputy chief. "That is why it's extremely important to safeguard not only operational information, but also personal information."

Air Force personnel cannot post any classified or sensitive information and must follow the guidelines for appropriate social media and Internet use. The inappropriate posting of information on the Air Force network and any operational security violations are punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

"The simplest step Airmen can take is following good operational security discipline," said Sergeant Sheldon. "Information is what an adversary seeks and if appropriate steps are taken to protect that information, the risks can be mitigated. The most important thing to remember is all Air Force personnel must use the best security practices for any system they are using."

Using social networking sites wisely comes down to common sense, responsibility and accountability.

Before you post anything to social networking sites ask these simple questions:
1. Am I violating any rules?
2. Is this a responsible comment to make?
3. Am I willing to be accountable for the comment?

If you answered, "no," "yes," "yes," then it is likely you are on the right track. If you weren't sure when answering, you need to become familiar with the social media "rules of the road."

Social Media "Rules of the Road"

What can I do on these sites?
- DO use the sites to help demonstrate the mission: we don't know the best application yet -- MAKE IT!
- DO be creative: use this forum as a way to build relationships and new ways to operate
- DO get engaged online: the enemy is living here already; it's time for us to show our side of the story
- DO use your best judgment: in the end you're responsible for what you say and the image you present
- DO communicate: the whole goal is to improve operations by sharing what we know
- DO think about operational security, OPSEC
- DO give firsthand accounts: go with what you know, and share but do not give out second-hand information
- DO correct folks if they misrepresent the Air Force; do so respectfully and factually, but make it right, or redirect them to factual information via links
- DO correct yourself if you make a mistake: it's the right thing to do -- CREDIBILITY IS CRITICAL
- DO acknowledge that your views are your own and not the official position of the Air Force or Department of Defense
- DO act professionally: you are our best interface to the public, so be proud and act appropriately
- DO remember that the Uniform Code of Military Justice still applies: just because it's in a virtual setting doesn't make  something that would be illegal any more lawful or appropriate
- DO ask for help if you aren't sure about posting something; your local public affairs office is a great place to start

What CAN'T I do on these sites?
- DON'T spill the beans on operations, privacy info, contractually sensitive or classified data. THINK OPSEC
- DON'T think this is your home computer: FarmVille, Mafia Wars, eBay, day trading, apps and widgets need to be done elsewhere
- DON'T be rude (your mother's watching): no obscene, abusive, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise offensive posting or viewing
- DON'T use other people's info: copyrights, trademarks, logos, writings, etc., must be honored
- DON'T tread on others rights: respect everyone's right to privacy and personal freedom
- DON'T be fake: no forging data about yourself or others, or misrepresenting who you are--be real
- DON'T pass on second- or third-hand info; just because your buddy told you doesn't mean it's true, first-hand info only, please
- DON'T spend half your day tweeting, blogging, etc: chatting with friends on lunch is OK, but don't go crazy.

(Senior Airman Tabitha M. Mans contributed to this article.)