In the second week of January 2017 three different videos, each by a BSF, CRPF, and am Army soldier, about the hardship they have to undergo in course of duty went viral and received more than eight lakh hits. It was immediately lapped up by the media who went berserk over the issue. It was all over the places, in newspaper editorials, television discussions and on the social media.
Everyone was busy airing his/her opinion without checking up the facts. All comments were mainly based on ‘Humane Appeal’ rather than actuality on the ground. No one bothered to pay any attention to what the Army Chief or both the Director Generals has said or for that matter the Delhi High Court’s directions to Home Ministry to file an Affidavit in cognizance of the case.
I had been fortunate to participate in as many as six TV Channels and am speaking as First Hand Communicator privy to these discussions with a knowledge base on Army’s views on the use of social media by its soldiers which they did not have.
It’s as easy as a click of a mouse or a tap on a smartphone, and in a few seconds, sensitive Army information might be shared that could get the soldiers killed. With the ease of social media, in any part of the globe at any time, a soldier, army civilian, or a family member can post pictures from a deployment or talk about an army mission. But these seemingly innocent posts could actually contain sensitive information that endangers soldiers by revealing locations, security measures, mission operations, or troop movements.
Soldiers, army civilians and family members need to be mindful of what they put online, with operations security at the forefront of their considerations. This applies to whether the person is a soldier or army civilian communicating as an organisation or as an individual on social media sites. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. You can delete it, but if the wrong person took a screen shot, that’s actionable intelligence and you can’t get that back.
They are subject to the Military Justice and could face corrective or disciplinary action if they violate the rules of conduct at any time. Those violations include a soldier releasing sensitive information, insulting his/ her chain of command, posting discriminatory statements, or sharing or linking to inappropriate material.
Army encourages soldiers to share with their families the lessons of operations security and using social media. The spouse, when the soldier is deployed, may post something about his or her return and that could be considered ‘Op Secret’. So, do not police yourself but to make sure your family knows what it can and cannot do. Soldiers must not use location-based social networking services when deployed or in classified areas.
Soldiers and families should not post specific dates or locations of deployments and resort to setting privacy settings to ‘friends only’ on personal accounts to prevent personal information from ending up in the wrong hands. The ‘Geo Tagging Feature’ is automatically turned on in smartphones and digital cameras. Geotagging is the equivalent of adding a 10-digit grid coordinate to a photograph telling when and where it was taken, which could reveal sensitive information about a location -- information that terrorists could use to target soldiers or the army Installations.
Soldiers must understand the importance of being vigilant at all times when using social media. The majority of the soldiers who are in uniform now have grown up with social media. This is the way they communicate. They are more aware of the do’s and don’t's but occasionally the army has to send out those reminders.
A post by a soldier or an army civilian could be potentially taken by a member of the public as an official post. That is why it is important for everyone in the army to always be professional. A soldier is responsible for anything that he puts on social media sites to connect to his loved ones.
If it’s something a soldier wouldn't say in a formation or in a public setting, then he must not post it on social media no matter how locked down the page is. No one knows who ultimately ends up seeing the information posted. These things can have long-term effects. In the 20 seconds, it takes to post the photo or four minutes to put information on the page may put many lives at stake. It is because that photo has that ‘metadata’ embedded in it which puts army operations and more importantly lives at stake by posting that.
The family members should be careful when posting information, such as if their spouse is deployed and they are now home alone, as someone with bad intent could use that information to target that family. The “trickle-down effect” of the information could impact the soldier and others. At the end of the day, it keeps all of us safe. It’s better to be safe than sorry.