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No pencil eraser for social media mistakes

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. (AFNS) -- In February 2010, Pentagon officials authorized using social networks on unclassified military computers. They believe the benefits of social media outweigh security concerns.

However, operational security has always been a military constant and that has not diminished with the advent of social media. If anything, OPSEC has become more important because of what we can say and where we can say it.

Loose lips and unchecked gossip on social media sites can bring down social media pages and have the potential to harm military operations and missions, as Sailors and Marines serving aboard the amphibious assault ship Bataan learned in May 2011. Escalating arguments and "the airing of dirty laundry" led Fleet Forces Command to shut down the ship's official Facebook page, citing OPSEC concerns.

"Numerous cases regarding OPSEC violations have arisen on several sites," said a spokesperson for the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group. "This makes it very difficult to support a social networking site, while keeping the mission clear and our Sailors safe. Once the command has conducted a thorough review, the page will be brought back online, but the ability for guests to post comments will be removed in the short term."

It is a privilege to be able to use social media sites from military computers, but with that privilege comes responsibility.

"Enjoy using social media as a means to keep in touch with loved ones and friends, especially while deployed, but always be mindful to protect the mission and your own personal critical information when posting," said Lt. Col. Jeffrey McMillen, 944th Fighter Wing OPSEC program manager.

As in the past, every military member and civilian employee is responsible for OPSEC.
"When tempers flare, it is best to disengage from public forums and Internet communication," Colonel McMillen said. "Cool heads are better than angry ones at protecting critical information, as well as avoiding embarrassment. Remember, there's no such thing as a Number 2 pencil eraser for the Internet. It's like publishing a book: Once it's out there, it's out there."

The idea that terrorists, foreign governments or spies might be looking for secrets from Facebook pages might seem a bit far-fetched, but the enemy is watching.

Ultimately, social media is just another form of communication where OPSEC rules must be followed. These same rules have been around for decades. The only thing that has changed is the technology and the speed of communication.