Social networking Web sites pose risk to Airman, security

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Vernon Floro
  • 96th Communications Squadron
It is an easy enough thing to do. Log on to your computer. Double click on Internet Explorer. Open up MySpace. Log in and vent about your job, your supervisor or talk about the new car you will buy when you return from your deployment to Camp Victory.

Unfortunately, to do so may put you or your comrades-in-arms at risk.

As a member or employee of the U.S. military, you are not restricted from using social networking Web sites like MySpace, Facebook or Together We Served. The growth of these sites has been explosive over the past five years with MySpace boasting nearly 300 million registered members. These Web sites serve the purpose of gathering people who may have similar hobbies, jobs or to keep in contact with friends and family. At the push of the enter key, we can send pictures, messages and blogs anywhere in the world.

Use of these websites is restricted on government computers; however, MySpace, YouTube and 11 other similar blogging sites were completely blocked by the Department of Defense last May, citing bandwidth issues and operational security concerns. The story made national headlines as thousands of deployed members lost the ability to connect to friends and family via their blogs.

The problem lies not with the Web sites themselves, but the possibility that security for military members could be compromised. Terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda have been data mining these sites, searching for personal information or anything that can be used to glean information to use against military members. Great Britain's Security Service branch (MI5), went so far as to ask British troops to remove all personal data posted during the Christmas period. Analysts determined Al Qaeda had been examining the sites looking for private information.

An Airman's Roll Call from November 2007 asked Airmen to consider four things in relation to blogs. One was operational security. Simply put, small pieces of information on their own can be seemingly harmless, but linked with information from your group of friends on the Web page, could be highly detrimental. In addition, a blog can be used in a military court of law. Illegal acts or knowledge of those acts posted in blogs can be used as evidence in a Uniform Code of Military Justice action.

Remember also, as Airmen, if you choose to represent yourself as a military member on your page, you serve as an ambassador for the U. S. Air Force and should present yourself in a manner befitting your career.

In addition, the disclosure of classified information or the use of blogs on government machines can be punishable under the UCMJ as well. There are serious consequences for breaking these rules.

If you take advantage of these Web sites, they can be an excellent social tool for meeting people, learning about other cultures and expressing yourself creatively. Consider the consequences of what you post, because used in the wrong way the information could pose a danger to you and others.