Beware of Social Media

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas-- -- In case you missed it, three aides working for Congressman Rick Larsen, from Washington State, were fired last month for boasting on Twitter about drinking on the job, watching videos on the taxpayers' dime and badmouthing their boss. Wow. How badly do the actions a few individuals reflect on one of our nation's highest institutions?

It is vitally important to be aware of how you present your thoughts to the public via social media. Pictures, posts, blogs, tweets or anything else you place on the web are a direct reflection of who you are and what you represent. Never post inappropriate photos, off-color remarks, confidential or classified information, or anything remotely offensive on social media sites. Think before you post.

Last summer, former Congressman Anthony Weiner was caught tweeting indecent pictures to several women. Those actions cost the former Congressman his seat in Congress after 12 years. Social media is not a private communication channel. Pictures, actions or words that are unacceptable in person are also unacceptable over social media. A good rule of thumb: never post anything you wouldn't want your mom or commander to see.

There are new examples daily: teachers posting about their students, athletes blogging about their fans, employees complaining about their bosses and inappropriate activity over Facebook. Unfortunately, these types of headlines are becoming so common, they almost aren't headlines anymore. What if the individuals above had been in the military? Couldn't happen?

In August of last year, Airmen attending the Air Transportation Technical School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas posed for a graduation picture. The photograph captured an Airman with a noose around his neck in an open casket and contained an inappropriate caption. The picture quickly spread throughout Facebook, was picked up by the national media and generated extremely negative headlines.

Again, how badly do the actions a few individuals reflect on one of our nation's most respected institutions, your Air Force? I'm guessing none of those Airmen intended to be insensitive to their fallen comrades or their families. I'm also guessing each one of those Airmen now seriously regrets being a part of that picture. It is absolutely vital you think about what you say, do or post. Take time to determine unintended interpretations and consequences of your actions.

Napoleon Bonaparte is credited with the theory of the "strategic corporal," where even the most junior individual at the lowest tactical level can have an enormous strategic impact. The speed and reach of today's social media sites have taken that concept to the extreme. Each and every one of you is a representative of your service, on and off duty, in both the physical and virtual worlds. Your actions, no matter how small, can have an enormous impact. Use your powers for good.