Social Media Could Jeopardize Military Operations, Careers

December 13, 2013
By Jim Sweeney

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and SIGNAL’s new Incoming columnist both worry about the impact of social media posts

Every year in the January issue, SIGNAL Magazine introduces a new columnist for its Incoming opinion column. Next year’s columnist, Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, USA (Ret.), picked a timely topic for his first column. He worries that with social media posts, warfighters and civilian military employees “merrily are doing the work of a million foreign spies.” Gen. Bolger warns of a broad trend toward posting too much information in social media.

But the concern over social media in the military begins before a warfighter puts on the uniform. Just a few weeks earlier, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, USA, warned in a speech that he worries about “the next generation, the young men and women who are now in their teens, early teens, and who probably underestimate the impact of their persona in social media and what impact that could have later in life on things like security clearances and promotions and selections.” He believes that men and women who might be considering military careers could be jeopardizing those aspirations due to the content of their social media posts.

The Joint Chiefs chairman noted he sees some merit in the idea of giving people “a second start.” Someone posting content to Twitter or Facebook or other social media sites that might have disqualified them from service would be allowed to join the military if they "agree from this point forward to live to the set of values that we describe.”

Gen. Bolger, in his SIGNAL column, warns that the problem does not stop once a warfighter is in uniform. “U.S. military operational security is not working,” he says, citing Facebook posts with troop movement information, weapons capabilities and other potentially damaging data. There are good rules in place to protect operational security, he points out; they just need to be enforced. The big releases of classified and other sensitive information—the WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden incidents—receive lots of attention, but the real problem is the trickle of data from large numbers of individuals that adds up to a very large amount of potentially harmful information, he argues.

The January 2014 issue of SIGNAL will be mailed January 2 and available in the digital edition January 1.

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Meanwhile, a heart-broken teen posts on Fb to share with 500 of their closest friends that their mom is leaving for a year in the sandbox. To wit, are we doing enough to educate families -- not just the military, civilian, or contractors -- of the reason and need for operational security?

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