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Into the deep blue sea ... of social media

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo (AFNS) -- My mother is on Facebook. Yes, I said it ... the woman who can't set the time on her DVD player without having the offended machine shoot angry DVD's at her is now able to go online and poke, prod and update at her leisure. I tell you this only to say that if you haven't heard of social media, you're probably living at the bottom of the deep blue sea.

There is resounding evidence that Air Force members are using social media with great abundance. According to the Air Force Social Media Use Survey, 69 percent of Airmen use YouTube, 48 percent use MySpace and 50 percent currently participate on Facebook. There are also numerous Airmen out there "tweeting," blogging and photo sharing.

As a public affairs professional, I am all for this. We want more Airmen empowered to be spokespersons for the Air Force. Gone are the days when only the commander or senior enlisted members were the ones telling folks about what's going on in the Air Force.

With this empowerment comes responsibility. With the world just a Facebook friend away, Airmen need to know that what they put on these social media Web sites is looked at ... a lot.

Just ask the young Air Force Academy cadet whose roommate taped him dancing after class his sophomore year. That video received more than 500,000 different views on YouTube but then it really went viral. CNN worldwide picked up the story and did a feature on the dancing cadet. This same cadet even got a shout out from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates during the cadet's Academy graduation.

The then cadet was embarrassed by the attention his dancing skills received, even though it in no way showed the Air Force in a disparaging light. Airmen must remember that they are military members at all times. The things you post on these sites can always be linked back to you ... and the fact that you're a military member.

Remember, this Air Force is pretty small and you are a representative of the Air Force 24/7. There is a good chance that even though your immediate supervisor isn't one of your Facebook friends, one of his friends probably is.

Social media isn't rocket science. If at any point you are worried about what your mom or your supervisor or your commander would say about a post, blog, picture or tweet, don't post it. Things posted to the internet are everlasting, and once posted, they're out there for everyone, including our adversaries, to see forever. Though you may think that you're just telling 549 of your closest Facebook friends that you are flying out from your deployed location at 9 a.m. on such and such a date, and you have a layover in Germany before flying out again three hours later, you've also just given out vital operational security information to those 549 friends and all of their friends as well.

You may think you're just letting everyone know so they can have the bells and whistles ready for your return, but in reality, you just put all the other redeployers lives in jeopardy as well.

Social media isn't going anywhere. With the technological advances that occur every day, you can rest assured that Facebook, Twitter and all those other sites are just the beginning of an information evolution. With every Airman being a spokesperson these sites help the ultimate goal of telling the Air Force story. Airmen just need to remember that they should tell the story the smart, secure way.