Commentary by Master Sgt. Sonny Cohrs
23rd Wing Public Affairs
I received at least five emails last week warning me to secure my social media settings and be aware of what I post on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Why? Do you not like to see what I had for dinner last night? Too many #selfies? Are photos of my dog eating a Popsicle offensive? (In my defense, he’s a really awesome dog.)
No. The warning is because there are potential threats against Americans, including service members and their families, in our homeland. Brutal, violent attacks on innocent civilians have happened here before, and, sadly, may happen again.
However, danger doesn’t always come in the form of 140 characters on Twitter. The metadata in your smart phone often includes times, locations and even GPS coordinates — valuable information for our adversaries. Air Force Instruction 1-1, Air Force Standards, says we are “personally responsible” for what we post online and that “the use of social media and other forms of communication that allow you to communicate with a large number of people brings with it the increased risk of magnifying operational security lapses.”
But what can you do to protect yourself from magnifying these security lapses? Remember your operational security training, always remain vigilant, and, yes, double check your social media settings and practices.
It’s also important to become a difficult target. Will “checking in” at your favorite restaurant make you a target for so-called “lone wolves” supporting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant? Possibly. Will posting the dates of your weeklong family vacation make you a target for criminals to break into your house and rob you? That’s more likely, so be smart about what you share online.
We are constantly reminded to refrain from posting information about deployment departures, locations and ongoing operations. Additionally, you should always screen your followers and refrain from checking in at places or allowing your friends to tag you at locations.
And although it should go without saying, never, ever post personally identifiable information online, such as your address, phone number or birthday. As advised, I checked my personal security settings on various social media sites and found I have some housekeeping for my digital identity. Chances are, you do too.
Should I delete my social media accounts? Should you? That is a personal decision everyone needs to make, but remember once you post something online there is no taking it back. It’s out there for the world to see, regardless of your intended audience.
Personally, I continue to use social media because it is the easiest way to keep up with family and friends across the globe, especially when deployed. I will, however, routinely check my security settings and remember to be smart about what I share. This year, my birthday passed with minimal well-wishes online because I removed it from my profile. That’s a small price to pay.
Historically, we learned “loose lips sink ships” as a way to remind ourselves of OPSEC measures. Today, this principle is even more vital because most people have the internet in their pocket. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Fundamentally, public opinion wins wars.”
In a way, the battle against ISIL takes place in the realm of public opinion. Our adversaries showed how they can effectively leverage social media to instill fear in millions of people when they beheaded Westerners and posted the videos to YouTube.
As a public affairs professional, it is my job to help tell the story of American Airmen and I will continue to do this because I am proud of the accomplishments we achieve each and every day. It’s important for the American people to see us accomplish our duties competently, effectively and proudly – without putting the mission or our wingmen at risk.