ARLINGTON, Virginia —
Social media plays a significant role in everyday life, especially for military families. It helps them learn information about their next duty station and stay connected to the family and friends they leave.
At the same time, the tool is also used by terrorists to seek out individuals and information.
Therefore, it is essential to follow Army regulations on social media use and protect operational security because if members of the military community put too much information online, and violate operational security, the safety of service members and their families can be at risk.
According to the Army's web page detailing information regarding social media use, operations security is "the process by which (individuals) protect unclassified information that can be used against (the Army). Its purpose is to prevent potential adversaries from discovering critical Department of Defense information. Success depends on secrecy and surprise, so the military can accomplish the mission more quickly and with less risk. Enemies of freedom want this information, and they are not just after the military member to get it."
Vihn Cayton, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall antiterrorism officer, said it is not necessarily service members that are the problem. It is usually their loved ones.
"Our biggest violators are actually family members," he said. "They are putting stuff on there that they shouldn't be putting on social media. The majority of the Soldiers are trained. It is just them taking it to explain to the Family."
Cayton explained that family members violate operational security on social media when they give out too much information on topics such as major events and deployments such as the date, time, location, and mission.
"For example, a family member will post 'hey he's coming on this date, this is the flight he is on, I am going to meet him at the airport,' or 'my husband/wife is getting ready to deploy with the unit and they going to wherever doing this,'" Cayton described.
Cayton said while service members go through training on how to be smart with social media, families do not always receive that same information. Therefore, when he briefs a family member, he gives them a case study that can show various impacts on what social media posts can do to security.
"It could be loss of life, damage to government property, even identity theft," Cayton said. "They put too much information about themselves out there; they might go through a legal battle trying to get their identity back."
Posts on social media have even delayed deployments and homecomings for service members.
The Army stated that individuals should not post details regarding their assigned unit's mission, security procedures, and details of locations, dates of deployments, and events.
Cayton said that it is okay to post about service members, it just shouldn't be done with specific details.
"You can say 'hey I am going to a dining in' and that's it instead of giving the specific details and location," he explained.
Following these rules are essential for the military community because even when one believes their security settings are private, and only friends can see their posts, that is not always the case, especially when other people start to share content with or without consent.
"Once information is posted or uploaded onto a social networking site, it should no longer be considered private," states the Army's Antiterrorism Awareness for Social Media Pocket Guide.
The Criminal Investigation Command also noted that when things are posted online, they never really go away.
"Once something is posted on a social networking website it can spread quickly, and no amount of effort can delete it," CID stated in a 2014 release.
Cayton said he works with service members and families to help reduce the risk and challenges from social media.
"We can't say to family members what you can and what you can't post online," he said. "It is what you should and shouldn't post. One of my responsibilities is to try to get you to that proper training, so you know what you are doing."