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Social media: Keeping it professional

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Cortney Paxton
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
In today's society, logging into popular social media sites is a common way to stay connected with friends and family. Sending messages, posting photos, updating a status or "tweeting" are now familiar actions for people of all generations.

The Air Force has embraced social media sites as an outlet to disseminate information, but has also recognized that improper use of these sites is something that should trigger consequences.

"As military members, we defend the right to free speech," said Col. Marné Deranger, 341st Missile Wing vice commander. "However, as military members, we can't be as 'free' with our words. I explain it similarly to how I explain it to my daughter - with her I say, 'If you don't want me to see it, you shouldn't post it. If you wouldn't say it to someone, you shouldn't post it.' For Airmen I say, 'If you wouldn't want your commanding officer, chief or supervisor to see it, you shouldn't post it.'"

According to AFI 35-113 Internal Information, "In general, the Air Force views personal websites and weblogs positively, and it respects the right of Airmen to use them as a medium of self-expression. However, as members of the Air Force, Airmen must abide by certain restrictions to ensure good order and discipline. All Airmen are on duty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and their actions on and off duty are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)."

The internal information guidance states that improper use of social media sites includes, but is not limited to:

· Offensive or illegal information - Defamatory, libelous, vulgar, obscene, abusive, profane, threatening, hateful, racially or ethnically offensive material
· Copyrighted material without permission
· Words or logos that infringe on property rights
· Classified or sensitive information
· Information disregarding the proprietary, privacy or personal rights of others
· Misrepresentation of others
· Identifying areas of expertise for which Airmen have no first-hand background or knowledge

Airmen can, however, identify to readers that their sites are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Air Force. They may also post links to Air Force websites on their personal/social site.

"Our world is so connected now," said Conn McKelvey, 341st MW Operations Security Program manager. "Social media is how people communicate with each other. But anything that's mission-related cannot be released without the commander's permission, which is a pretty broad category. Commanders must ensure that any information released to the public has a valid mission need prior to being released. You can't release privacy act information, classified information, sensitive but unclassified information or what's on the Wing's critical information list. The full power of the UCMJ is behind the commander for poor OPSEC."

It's important for Airmen to educate their family members on the mission-related information that cannot be released. Airmen should recognize that once something is posted on their sites, it's out there forever. Deleting something doesn't necessarily mean it's gone, so members should check their content carefully before hitting "enter." It's also important for Airmen to educate their family members on the mission-related information that cannot be released.

Airmen must use social media professionally and follow security, accuracy, policy and propriety guidelines set by the Air Force and Department of Defense but, above all else, Airmen must be respectful. Unfortunately, social media sites have become an avenue for cyber bullying and an outlet for some individuals to express negative comments. While this is not only inappropriate, it has the ability to negatively affect the people who may see it.

"I believe the biggest challenge is to try not to get into 'react mode' and hit send before considering the consequences," McKelvey said. "Know your audience before you communicate and think about who can see what you're putting out. Sound OPSEC is important for your professional as well as your personal life. In an angry moment or emotional situation, you may post something that's a reaction instead of well thought out. Ultimately, it could cost you a relationship, your job, your identity, your money or even a life - if not your life, it could potentially be your friend or wingman. It's good to be a little bit paranoid because even if you think you have set the highest security levels, they're all hackable."

For more information on the proper use of social media, visit