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Commentary | Feb. 25, 2010

Social media: New AOR

By David Hopper 633d Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Technology drastically changed the landscape of communication over the past 20 years. The ability to communicate to the masses through electronic faxes gave way to mass e-mails, and now, we find ourselves at a crossroads - the public has learned to despise those spam e-mails just as much as the robo-calls at dinner.

The new frontier in communication is all about social media, relationship building, and putting actual faces and voices to organizations. It is important to note that social media is not all bad and it is important to look at the benefits as well as the potential damage.

When surfing the Internet, on a social media site or not, it is important to remember that once information is out there, there is no getting it back. Some social media sites have privacy settings, but you need to ask yourself if you trust technology enough to put your personal information out there for everyone to see. Instead of blocking all social media sites on government computers, leaders should provide personnel with guidance on the proper way to use social media without compromising personal information, family members or fellow Service members.

Social media is a lifeline when Service members deploy or move away from loved ones. As a young Soldier stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, one of the hardest things I dealt with was the feeling of isolation. Even though I had people all around, I often felt alone and couldn't afford to call friends and family every day. Social media would have made being away from home a lot easier.

As a public affairs professional, I believe social media is an invaluable communication tool. Imagine being able to get inclement weather notifications via Twitter or Facebook. The installation commander wants to provide everyone with the information they need as quickly as possible - social media can help fill the void and reduce notification lag time. In addition, social media could put a face with a name in the surrounding community as we encourage others to visit our respective social media Web pages.

In October 2008, the Air Force conducted a survey: 70 percent of Airmen are using YouTube, 50 percent are using Facebook and 75 percent are using MySpace. Additionally, 50 percent of Airmen want the Air Force to take a more active role in social media, 70 percent of Americans ages 15 to 34 are actively involved with social media, and 500,000 people join Facebook and MySpace daily.

The bottom line is social media is here to stay and our country's enemies will continue to manipulate and misinform using social media, even if Service members aren't there to set the record straight.