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NEWS | Feb. 20, 2019

Social media safety during deployments, at home

By Will Ravenstein Fort Riley, Kansas, Public Affairs

Since the creation of social networking sites, staying connected to family and friends is easier -- especially over long distances.

With military troops mobilizing in 2019, the temptation to let family back home know when a service member is leaving or when one will be coming home while they are gone is there.

"The adversary is always looking," said Pat Burch, antiterrorism officer, program manager for Fort Riley, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. "How they look may differ because of their capabilities -- but you should always assume the bad guy is trying to find something they can use to their advantage."

With movements happening, many pieces will fall together before boots are on the ground in the various locations. The times and places of departures, arrivals and travel plans should not be posted online. Even a selfie checking-in somewhere could be detrimental.

"We wouldn't want an adversary, whether it's a potential terrorist or a nation state, like Russia or China, to have any idea of our exact movements -- times and locations," Burch said. "It's not something that we want out there … We don't want to let those things out because it allows our adversary to get an idea of how long it takes us to get from point A to point B."

It is not just the enemies of the U.S. who take advantage of information supplied online.

"Let's say here locally, she lets it out that my spouse is coming back this or that date," Burch said. "If she posts that out on social media, guess what -- the criminal looking at that stuff knows that no one is going to be at the house."

For the terrorist, or adversary, that announcement also indicates when a large group of people will be in one location at the same time.

There are things to remember when posting on social media, according the May 2015 "Precautions For The Use Of Social Networking Sites For Antiterrorism Awareness and Community Outreach Guide" from Army OneSource.

Remember that even with the strictest security settings in place, certain details of your personal life, if made public, could be a security concern for you, your family or your military unit; unit movements, deployments, personnel rosters, weapons information or other command-critical information should never be posted.

Do not share private information such as where your children go to school, home address, phone numbers, times and locations of events you plan to attend or other information that allows someone to track your routines and possibly guess when and where you or your family might be.

The U.S. Central Command website,, said terrorists have said they are hunting people and their families at home.

An Al Qaeda handbook tells its terrorists to seek out "information about government personnel, officers, important personalities and all matters related to those – resident, work place, times of leaving and returning, wives and children, places visited."

Burch said there are simple rules to follow when on social media accounts to protect yourself.

"First thing is, if you are going to have any social media accounts or anything online, you should have real relationships with that person before you have a cyber relationship," he said. "What I tell people is, 'If I can't speak to you, or I would not speak to you -- I probably should not like you on Facebook. If I cannot hug you or would not hug you, I probably ought not (be) friending you.'"

Secondly, he said don't be specific when posting information online.

"When you are going to post on a social media account be ambiguous," he said. "Instead of saying, 'Hey, I'm going to meet my significant other on base because they are coming home,' you might want to say, 'I'm just going to be away from this for a while, I have some things I need to do.' Don't put out any details, just be very ambiguous."

This also applies to friends and family accounts, make sure relatives do not share travel plans, he said.

Hacking and fake accounts have been a popular trend on social media and the general rule to follow is to verify with the person, via established communication means -- telephone, email, etc. -- if the second friend request is real before automatically accepting.

If a government established social media account is compromised, notify the chain of command immediately and, if possible, suspend all accounts to prevent further illicit activity.