A New Front: U.S. Military and Social Media

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ADOTAS – It turns out that social media isn’t just for tweeting pictures of your breakfast cereal or reconnecting with high school friends you didn’t miss in the first place.

In the everything-in-real-time world we now find ourselves in, social media platforms are becoming more useful and practical for spreading the word, reaching out, and connecting in new and previously unimagined ways.

The latest entity to adopt social media as a key communications? The United States Military.

Recruitment. In Arizona, the National Guard is using Facebook and Twitter to find and communicate more instantly, and in some cases, more effectively than ever before. Especially when it comes to younger men and women, these are natural “go-to” platforms for exchanging ideas and information, and the Guard is responding in kind.

It is not uncommon for a potential recruit to request information and guidance on joining all through a public Facebook page.1 It makes sense, from a marketing perspective, to go where the “market” is, so if potential recruits are hanging out on Facebook, that is the place where the new connection can be made.

Communication. Being deployed halfway around the world can feel isolating, to say the least, for those who are separated from friends, family and their home community. In the past, the most common means of communication for deployed military to or from home were “snail mail” and the occasional phone call, and more recently, email.

Now, however, the options have changed. The many platforms available via the Internet allow troops to share messages, photos and video easily and instantly – and in ways previously not even thought of. Surely, this extension of the always-in-real-time world we now live in is a great morale booster for both the senders and the recipients.

Privacy Issues. Of course, most (if not all) of these platforms are public, and even “locked” or private profiles can be accessed by people who know what they are doing, some of whom may not be so friendly to the cause of the U.S. troops and military. In a modern-day version of “loose lips sink ships,” military personnel are constantly reminded that not everything that can be posted should be posted, including videos and other information that could disclose their location or other operation-sensitive data.

Information. Back on domestic soil, these same tools can also be used to instantly get a variety of messages out. A quick search of the hashtag #USMilitary on twitter brings up hundreds of real-time tweets and conversations. Conversely, many enemy parties are quite savvy with all things social media and Internet, and they do a good job of rallying for their cause on their side of the computer screen.

Domestic entities such as the Department of Defense are known to put a great deal of effort into identifying and countering misinformation, such as lies and rumors. While the free-flow of information can be wonderful, it can also cross a line into being unwanted or dangerous.

A New, Different Front. While social media may be a “virtual” front, it is as real as any other battlefield. These days, it is not unusual – it is expected, in many cases – for people (civilians and military alike) to hop right onto social media to get more information on things happening right now, such as natural disasters (the recent earthquake/tsunami disaster in Japan, for example) or breaking news, such as the death of Osama Bin Laden. For soldiers in the thick of the action, split-second decisions and information are also more readily available via phone and Internet-based tools and means of communication.

Certainly, it is a brave new world out there in social media itself, and once coupled with the immediacy and importance of the work our military does, it becomes all the more exciting and maybe a tad scary, too. It will be interesting to see how the various branches of this age-old institution continue to identify and utilize all of the ever-developing technologies and tools in the world of social media and online networking.

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