Military Loved Ones and the Internet
By Libby Hopkins
Until Vietnam, American wars were truly an enigma to families and the country back home. Still photos, long awaited letters, films created by United States officials, and news reports whose information came from government spokespeople were all that loved ones and the American public could see. In contrast, due to most American families having television in their homes by the time of Vietnam, actual visual footage of war was broadcast directly into regular Americans’ living rooms.
Fast forward to the present, real time news with graphic visuals transmitted digitally by embedded reporters is commonplace. Further, loved ones can often communicate with their deployed service members in actual time via email, text or Facebook messaging, and can even see one another and the troops’ surroundings while communicating via Skype, Face Time or the like. Consequently, parents, spouses and other loved ones can have access to up-to-the-minute information about the service member and his/her unit’s whereabouts, combat situation, location, movements, schedule and leave expectations. When a loved one gets excited and innocently shares that information with friends and loved ones publicly on social media, there can be dire consequences.
Something as simple as, “So excited that John’s coming home from Fallujah on Thursday in time for the birth of the baby”, posted on Facebook or Twitter, could trigger consequences ranging from the entire unit’s leave being delayed or cancelled, to tipping off the enemy as to the unit’s plans to move out, possibly jeopardizing missions, damaging national security, causing territory to be overtaken or even the loss of American or allied troops, or civilian lives.
MilitaryFamily.com (Strickland, 2014) reports that, “If you post it, SOMEONE can find it.” It is now known that opposing forces, including terrorist groups, target proud military loved ones, perusing their social media postings and hacking into email accounts. They prey on friends’ and family members’ eagerness to share news with others who worry about the deployed service member’s safety and well-being.
Using safe social media can also protect military families at home. According to the Interagency OPSEC Support Staff, as referenced on www.army.mil, a common terrorism training handbook teaches terrorists to search online for data about service members and government employees, including their residence, work place, times of leaving and returning, their children, and places visited. Social network provides the perfect venue for terrorist groups to obtain this information, so making your password difficult to determine and changing it frequently can add an extra layer of security.
www.army.mil provides the following suggestions and comparison table for safer social media posting:
What not to post
- When using Facebook and other social media platforms, do not post personally identifiable information and any information that can damage Army operations.
- Think about what you’re posting before hitting share. Many times, you can avoid releasing sensitive information by simply rephrasing your social media post.
- If you aren’t comfortable placing the same information on a sign in your front yard, don’t put it online.
The modern military family is fortunate to have so many ways to communicate with their deployed loved one. There is no doubt that a young child back home having the opportunity to say, “good night” to a deployed Mom or Dad live on a computer screen surely reduces anxiety about their parent’s safety, and provides a sense of security and continuity. However, family members need to use utmost caution in order to maintain tight security of military information. If unsure about what is (or is not) safe social posting, contact the base Public Affairs Department for further guidance. There are also many online resources available related to internet/social media safety and security for military loved ones. Among them are:
- http://parentszone.org//2008/05/29: So your child is being deployed…Some soldier’s mom
- mil/12038/Project Documents: Military community and family policy: Social media guide
- com: How to protect your family: The basics of operational security
- army.mil: OPSEC and safe social networking