While all military services and government agencies now have written handbooks and guidelines on dealing with social media, including command-level offices dedicated to social media oversight, the U.S. Navy is often cited as one of the leaders in what the Navy Chief of Information (CHINFO) terms “Emerging Media Integration.”
Whenever the nation is at war, military and other government personnel are under increased pressure to ensure no information that might be useful to the enemy becomes public. Until a few years ago, that meant being careful about conversations, letters, wiretaps, hidden microphones and the other trappings of traditional espionage.
Today, with tens of millions of people – including many in the military – putting almost everything they say and do into cyberspace via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and smartphone text and image exchanges, it is far more difficult. At the same time, the services are trying to harness cyberspace for their own purposes, from significantly increasing communications among warfighters of all ranks to providing information to the media.
“The rapid growth of social media platforms and technologies have flattened and democratized the communication environment in ways we are just beginning to comprehend,” Rear Adm. Dennis J. Moynihan, CHINFO, wrote in the introduction to the Fall 2010 edition of the Navy Handbook on Social Media. “Effective communication has always contributed to unit and mission success. In today’s more connected environment, talking to and engaging with your audiences is absolutely essential.
“Social media is an effective channel to communicate relevant, aligned and targeted information to the stakeholders that we want to reach, including some we have had a hard time reaching before. As with the advent of other communication technologies – phone, fax, email, websites – we must exercise caution to use these tools safely and effectively. And we must educate our sailors and families to do the same.”
To that end, the Navy has created more than a dozen Navy Visual News Service sites, from well-known outlets such as Facebook and YouTube to lesser known sites, such as Vimeo and Veoh. But the real effort has gone into creating FaceBook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr and blog sites for individual commands, units, and even senior officers.
Most of those can be accessed through the Social Media Directory at Navy.mil. Only a handful, including Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have established a presence with all five, but nearly all have FaceBook pages.
“Social media is all about collaboration. While we encourage candid conversation and frank exchange of ideas, we request you voice your opinions in a respectful manner,” directory visitors are advised. “You participate at your own risk, taking personal responsibility for your comments, your username and any information provided.”
The Navy also offers a wide range of guides and recommendations for any service member, from four-star to seaman recruit, who wants to set up his or her own social media site. Those include warnings on how sensitive personal information, such as Social Security numbers, home addresses or children’s schools and schedules, can become public knowledge – and possible weapons for terrorists. Even a casual, seemingly harmless post about an upcoming deployment could be used to target units for attack – or homes for burglaries.
The Handbook cites recent polls showing 80 percent of American adults with Internet access use some form of social media, as do “an overwhelming majority of Navy personnel.” While most civilians see social media as just that, a modern means of social communication, the Navy sees it as something far more important – and not only in terms of potential sensitive information getting into the wrong hands.
“The Navy encourages service members to tell their stories. With fewer Americans having served themselves in the military, it is important for our service members to share their stories of service with the American people,” the handbook advises its officer corps. “Not surprisingly, this makes every blogging, tweeting or Facebooking sailor an ambassador for your command and the Navy. Educating our sailors and personnel about how to maintain the integrity of this ambassadorship is important.”