Social Revolution

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Zach Anderson
  • 4th Air Force Public Affairs
- Matt is starting a drive from Michigan to Texas.

- Susan just found a kidney-shaped hailstone.

- Greg is getting ready to go to a baseball game.

- David just moved into his new apartment and is looking for furniture.

Four of my friends, living in four different states, and yet I know exactly what each of them is doing, right up to the minute.

Behold the power of social media, or, in this case specifically, the power of Facebook.

Today, Facebook is the biggest and the baddest, the hands-down leader in what over the last five years has been the greatest enhancement of communication and information sharing since the inception of the Internet.

Still using e-mail as your primary source of electronic communication? That's soooo 2004. E-mail, my friends, is dying a slow and painful death at the hands of the social media explosion. The new generation of communicators will not be relying on electronic "in-boxes" to receive information.

Don't believe it? Case in point: I recently completed the Air and Space Basic Course where I was one of the oldest 2nd lieutenants in attendance. I told my classmates I would "e-mail them some information" and each requested that I "facebook" them instead. Lessons learned: I'm old and "Facebook" is now both a noun and a verb.

Still not convinced? Just look at the numbers. Facebook's statistics page claims more than 4 million active users with more than 25 billion Web links, news stories, blog posts, notes and photos shared each month. According to "The Huffington Post" statistics, the social networking application Twitter currently has more than 105 million registered users, with new users signing up at a rate of 300,000 per day.

And these are just the current biggies. Millions upon millions more are sharing information, networking and conducting business on platforms like MySpace, YouTube, Bebo, Friendster, Orkut, Perfspot, Linkedin...the list goes on and on.

In short, the social media revolution isn't just now leaving the runway; it's soaring at full afterburner. For those who aren't on board for the ride, catching up is going to be very, very difficult. Luckily, military leadership has made the decision to embrace, rather than boycott, social media.

In February, the Pentagon announced it was allowing the use of social media sites, stating the advantages of these communication tools offset operational security concerns. In April, the Air Force began opening up its bases to social media, including March Air Reserve Base. The opening of the social media floodgates to military members is only fitting. After all, according to a recent Reuters report, Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, currently has more than 16,000 followers on Twitter. Now the rest of the military can receive "tweets" from its top officer and he, presumably, can now officially "tweet" from his workplace.

Working in the field of communications, I'm excited about the unlimited possibilities open social media networking brings to the Air Force. Social media gives our service members the platform and the tools to tell their individual stories and to share their accomplishments from a first-person standpoint, which, in turn, serves to increase our credibility with the American people.

It allows those we serve to interact with us in a way never before possible. It allows our commanders to have immediate communication and feedback from troops, strengthening the morale of Airmen. It opens up an incredible outlet for the sharing of ideas, of guidance and of interaction.

For the first time, we are able to have true two-way communication with our audiences. Social media essentially revolutionizes how we communicate with each other and with the American public.

However, this revolution is definitely not without its potential drawbacks, and those who oppose the Pentagon's decision are quick to point these out. The biggest concern lies in the trade-off between open communication and operational security.

Critics argue the use of social media by the military opens up a vast new realm of security risks. With open access to social networking, what's to keep "Airman Snuffy" from sending out a "tweet" that reveals secure information? How can we assure that he doesn't violate OPSEC while updating his wing's Facebook page status?

The fact is, this has always been an issue with any enhancement or progress in communication within the military. The only difference now is instead of a potential OPSEC slip-up in a letter, a radio transmission, a phone call, a conversation or an e-mail, there now exist the possibility that it could happen on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.

The solution to this issue has never been simply blocking access. If that were the case, we'd have no phone lines on base, no base newspaper and no e-mail. The solution lies in the individual and in the training that individual receives.

The same rules of OPSEC that apply to traditional forms of communication apply to social media as well. It's about individual responsibility, individual accountability and, quite frankly, common sense. We trust our Airmen to work on top secret weapon systems. We should be able to trust them with a Facebook account.

In reality, our Airmen are using social media privately regardless. Now, we are simply empowering them to utilize it as a communication tool in the workplace as well.

The benefits that we in the Air Force can gain by utilizing these communication platforms are immeasurable. The good that can be brought about by two-way, personal interaction with our internal and external audiences will do nothing but strengthen the credibility of our service and the public understanding of what we do.

Social media opens us up to an entirely new demographic, a new audience of millions with whom to share the lives and stories of our Airmen.

And I, for one, look forward to "youtubing," "tweeting," and yes, even "facebooking" those stories out to the American people.