Think twice before you post online

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Victoria Brayton
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Every Airman is an ambassador for the Air Force. What you say and what you do reflect not only on you, but on the Air Force as an organization.

And now that more and more Airmen are actively using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, what you post matters too.

It is the responsibility of every Airman to think twice before posting information and photographs online and to ensure that those posts don't compromise operational security or the professional image of the Air Force.

Some people might find it hard to believe that there are that many Airmen using social media. They think that only a minority of the younger troops are active online and those few voices don't really matter.

On the contrary, according to the Air Force guidebook, "New Media and the Air Force," 70 percent of Airmen use YouTube, 50 percent use Facebook and 75 percent of enlisted Airmen use MySpace.

The majority of Airmen, therefore, are active online. Even more notable is that their presence on these online sites allows them to reach a rapidly growing audience.
According to the guidebook, 500,000 more people join Facebook and MySpace every day, and 70 percent of Americans between ages 15-34 are actively involved in social media.

Some people think that even if a majority of Airmen are using social media, what they post is their personal business. They believe that these sites are only a part of their private lives.

Although there is no official Air Force policy specifically outlining how Airmen should interact online, there is guidance regarding Airmen's behavior regardless of the medium, said Capt. Christina J. Sukach, chief of emerging technology for the Air Force Public Affairs Agency.

"Air Force members and employees should understand that they are responsible for and beholden to the words they choose to use, whether they decide to make a statement downtown in the public square, to a close friend or in an online venue," she said.

Airmen must remember that although they may seem personal, social media Web sites are on the Internet and are therefore publicly accessible, and Air Force instruction does require Airmen to obtain the appropriate review and clearance before releasing any information or imagery to the public.

In fact, Air Force Instruction 35-101 specifically states that this review "includes any digital products being loaded on an unrestricted Web site."

All Air Force members, even while on the Internet, are still considered ambassadors and must act accordingly.

According to the new media 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."

Finally, some people think that trying to restrict access to their Web sites or removing content is enough to protect any sensitive material they post.

However, with hackers sophisticated enough to attack Defense Department computer networks on a daily basis, it's not hard to see how a hacker could access a supposedly "private" personal Web site.

According to the Nov. 12 Air Force article, "Rise of the cyber wingman," hackers have stolen classified information before, and attacking individual users is the most common means of getting information.

Even when individuals attempt to remove information they once posted, this does not guarantee that the information is secure.

"Once you post something, it's out there and you can't really take it back, even if you delete the post because chances are it's been cataloged by someone, somewhere on the Internet," Captain Sukach said.

Rather than taking chances with attempting to restrict access to Web sites, Captain Sukach said Airmen should simply think twice before posting.

"A good thought to remember in regards to your interactions, both online and off, [is] if you wouldn't say it directly to your mom or your commander or anyone else you respect, then you probably shouldn't post it."

Increased social media use among Airmen, if used unwisely, can seriously harm the integrity of the Air Force and national security. It's imperative that all Airmen consider professionalism and operational security before posting online.

The new media guidebook offers a number of guidelines for the appropriate use of social media Web sites. Chief among them are to use common sense, avoid offensive content, steer clear of classified information and be aware of the image you present.

The bottom line for all Airmen is simple: think twice before you post online.