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Socially acceptable: Know what to post, what not to share

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A graphic depicts various social media logos. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Jacob Mosolf)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.-- --

While social media is great for telling the Air Force story, keeping personnel informed and staying in touch with family and friends, it is especially important for Airmen and their families to limit personal and certain work information when posting things online.

Criminals and foreign adversaries can learn a lot about people based on what is posted on social media, whether it’s comments, photos or memes. Cyber criminals can steal somebody’s identity, target military members to gain inside information and use geotags from photos to locate military or family members.  

In January 2017, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations produced a special publication highlighting how to safeguard an online presence. The publication states military members are targeted online for two major purposes: fraud and elicitation of sensitive information.

“The safest practice for Airmen (military or civilian) is to decline friend requests or requests to follow from anyone they do not know,” said Ryan Cobb, AFOSI, Detachment 807 special agent. “If they do recognize the person, but are already ‘friends’ with or follow them, then they should reach out to that person by phone or email to ensure it is in-fact a legitimate request, before accepting.”

The AFOSI publication explains online fraud against Airmen has persisted for many years and can take on multiple forms, including romance scams, identity theft, extortion, or a multitude of other scams. It further confirms that elicitation of Air Force personnel by criminals and foreign adversaries is a growing concern, especially as Air Force members continue to expand their presence on social networking sites.

“There are a lot of scammers out there pretending to be people they are not,” Cobb said. “They look for military ties. Therefore, members should keep their security settings on private or friends only. By doing this, they can keep these questionable people from gathering information and potentially using it for nefarious purposes.”

In Air Force Instruction 35-107, Public Web and Social Media Communication, chapter five states, “All Airmen (military and civilian) have limitations of free speech. In addition to specific ethics and Hatch Act limitations, civilians are prohibited from discussing the intricacies of the Air Force and the Department of Defense. Active duty members, as members of the Air Force, must abide by certain restrictions to ensure good order and discipline.”

The AFI also states all (military) Airmen are on duty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and their actions on and off duty are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

“Airmen are solely responsible for what they post on the internet, social media platforms or otherwise,” said Capt. Casey Randall, 50th Space Wing Legal Office chief of civil law. “Before posting, they should consider Operational Security or posting anything that may reflect negatively on the Air Force.”

Not only is OPSEC important, but Airmen can benefit from learning about copyright and trademark laws, too.

“It’s also important that we are aware copyright and trademark laws also apply to online posting,” said Randall. “Airmen should avoid using any copyright or trademark product unless they have specific permission from the owner. Breaking these laws or making classified or secret information public is punishable under the UCMJ, and the consequences can ruin careers or lives.”

For more details about acceptable social media, refer to AFI35-105, Public and Social Communication, and the AFOSI’s Special Product, United States: Safeguarding USAF Personnel’s Online Presence.  

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