VIENNA, Va., – The National Guard’s top officer encouraged a “healthy debate” on the use of social media by the U.S. military today.
“Somewhere in the middle, I know there’s a happy medium,” said Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau. “And that’s why it’s important for groups like this to come together and discuss.”
He spoke to nearly 50 government professionals, who met here for a Social Media for Defense and Government event.
Participants said social media’s presence in the military can include a variety of online tools for personal, career, and development goals.
Obviously, these new tools that we use today are changing the way we do business, not only in the commercial world but in the military, said McKinley, who uses Twitter in his daily communications. “They are incredibly powerful.”
The general told the audience that senior DoD leaders are keeping the debate open on social media in the military to weigh its assets and vulnerabilities.
“In the Department of Defense today, there is a very healthy debate – a pro and con debate – on how we will use social media,” said McKinley.
Officials said an overarching DoD policy on social media is still being developed.
McKinley discussed the ability of social media to bridge communications between the military and the community during local, state, and federal emergencies.
He added that careful attention needs to be paid to any restrictions placed on the flow of such information.
Rick Breitenfeldt, a social media manager for the National Guard Bureau, agreed. He referred to the Guard’s use of social media during the 2009 Midwest floods along the Red River in North Dakota as an example.
“We put out accurate, reliable and timely information to let the citizenry know what they were seeing … or in the Haiti response today, others are (encouraging) people to donate money,” said Breitenfeldt.
The Army National Guard’s Facebook group currently hosts 215,000 fans, the third-largest in the nation.
Among other uses, social media helps the Army Guard connect with potential recruits. “We have our perimeter, and we put up these walls to try to keep most people out of our business, [but] in this world [we] are trying to engage with more people,” said Col. Mike Jones, who oversees recruiting and retention for the Army Guard. “It’s an on-purpose engagement, outside the wire.”
Jones said the generation gap doesn’t help the issue. Younger service members are fully engaged and familiar with social media, while senior leaders are less knowledgeable in its use and capabilities.
“How we bridge this and how we use the tools of social media I think are vitally important to all of us as citizens of the United States,” said McKinley. “In the 21st century, failures in information have very strict consequences.”
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