Does Social Media Compromise Military Operations?

Defense Social Media IconWith the U.S. military recently allowing soldiers to use social media, news of the Israeli military ditching a mission apparently due to a soldier’s indiscretion on Facebook, the question comes up of whether social media use could compromise American missions.

The New York Times and other media outlets report that a planned Israeli raid of a West Bank village was canceled after a soldier posted some details of it on his Facebook page. The soldier, who was reported by friends, has been court-martialied and sentenced to 10 days in prison.

Is that too severe? Probably not, especially if lives are at stake. Is this something that the U.S. military has to worry about, now that they’re allowing personnel to use Twitter, Facebook and other online social networking services? Probably, since the likelihood of similar compromised missions occurring has increased.

When the DoD issued their social media usage policy (PDF, 9 pgs), in late Feb 2010, the intent was to allow military personnel to keep in touch with family and friends. On page 5 of the policy document, some of the allowable services are listed as follows (words in italics are my emphasis):

  1. SNS. [E.g., Social Networking Services, such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.]
  2. Image- and video-hosting web services. [E.g., YouTube, Flickr.]
  3. Wikis.
  4. Personal, corporate, or subject-specific blogs.
  5. Data mashups that combine similar types of media and information from multiple sources into a single representation.
  6. Similar collaborative, information sharing-driven Internet-based capabilities where users are encouraged to add and/or generate content.

The document states that these are only some examples, suggesting other options are available to military personnel.

By allowing personnel the vehicle of social media communication, the military is of course increasing the likelihood that someone will reveal — whether intentionally or not — too much about missions that need to remain secret. This might mean that militaries need to rethink operations and who is told what information when. Rules might be rules, and even those people who have been taught discretion can make mistakes.

With brave soldiers already losing their lives in number of places around the world, should the military have even allowed the use of social media by people in active duty? Who in the military should be allowed to use social networks? How can and should militaries prevent occurrences similar to the Israeli incident, when social media makes it so easy to broadcast sensitive information, increasing the riskiness of certain operations? Should all personnel be given a course on appropriate use?

No doubt the DoD already thought of these things before issuing the policy, and maybe some of these have already been answered, but those answers are not immediately evident. Let’s hope that the allowance of social media use does not backfire on our brave soldiers or even innocent civilians.

Image via Department of Defense Social Media Hub