Expanded digital access uses same common sense

By Master Sgt. Keith Houin: U.S. Air Forces in Europe Public Affairs

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Social networking sites are open to Air Force servicemembers and employees in the workplace. This change to policy has raised many questions about using social media officially and personally in the workplace.

When you get right down to it, however, little has changed. The rules established for Internet use at work are no different than before Air Force officials opened access to social media sites.

The guidance provided in the recently updated Air Force Guidance Memorandum, Responsible and Effective Use of Internet Based Capabilities is just as true for visiting commercial Web sites for personal use on government computers as for using Internet-based services to access social media on those same computers.

What you can or can’t say really hasn’t changed, either. Guidance found in the 35-series AFIs still offers the primary guidance for public release of information and covers official Web management policy.

Though little has changed in the rules, the tools have come a long way from the early days of government commercial Internet use. In the earliest days of the Internet, forums and bulletin boards were popular ways of sharing information, but they took time to connect, download and upload. Use was limited to people who understood computers.

Today’s social networking arguably has become the fastest way to disseminate and share a variety of information. The exchange of information is nearly instantaneous. Its accessibility and speed allows us to fire and forget without much thought as to what we say or do.

From a personal standpoint, you may say something that upsets someone or post personal information you may not have really wanted to share. From a professional and official standpoint, this can be dangerous and could cause problems for people far removed from the initial post.

There are more than a few common-sense tips to remember that can help keep people out of trouble in the social networking world, and at the same time help tell the Air Force story while communicating with family and friends.

Most importantly, think about what you say before you say it. Your words live forever on the Internet.

Everything that applies to other forms of communication applies to the Internet social networking atmosphere as well. Simply think of all the annual briefings you get about operations security, political activity, privacy act and other topics. Ask, “Is this allowed in other forms of communication?” If you aren’t sure, it’s a good bet you should get additional guidance before posting to a social networking site.

We’re proud of our profession and want everyone to know that we’re part of the Air Force, but putting your rank and your name in your profile on a social networking site has some unintended implications.

A Facebook page with the user name “Chief Master Sgt. J. Suchnsuch” is likely to be viewed as an official site. The same page with the username of “J. Suchnsuch,” and profile information that includes rank and position is much less likely to be viewed by the public as official.

Using social networking sites wisely comes down to common sense, responsibility and accountability.

Before you post anything to social networking sites ask these simple questions:

• Am I violating any rules?

• Is this a responsible comment to make?

• Am I willing to be accountable for the comment?

If you answered, “no,” “yes,” “yes,” then it is likely you are on the right track. If you weren’t sure when answering, you need to become familiar with the social media “rules of the road.”