View Full Version : Military uses social networking to reach public

02-13-09, 07:01 AM
Military uses social networking to reach public
By Audrey McAvoy - The Associate Press
Posted : Friday Feb 13, 2009 5:53:09 EST

HONOLULU — You too can become a friend of the U.S. Pacific Command, the people who manage U.S. security interests from Hawaii to India. Or you could “tweet” your thoughts to the Northern Command, which is responsible for defending the continental U.S.

Both commands are using social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and MySpace to reach the public and tell their stories to those less likely to read the newspaper and watch television news.

Many of the sites are well known for facilitating teenage gossip and reconnecting old college friends years after graduation. But the sites are increasingly becoming places where friends and colleagues trade information and share ideas.

“It’s part of the way you communicate now,” said Navy Capt. Jeff Breslau, a U.S. Pacific Command spokesman. “There’s no reason why we can’t talk directly to the public and now we have the tools to do it.”

The Pacific Command’s Flickr photo collection — which debuted this week — shows American B-52 bombers flying in formation with Japanese fighter jets during exercises off Guam. Its Facebook page features news articles about international drills in Thailand.

The command, which oversees 300,000 troops, had only 71 “fans” on Facebook as of late Thursday. But officials hope more people will sign on when they hear about the Pacific Command page.

Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command gained over 3,000 followers when they posted Twitter updates on Santa’s whereabouts last Christmas Eve.

NORAD has been keeping children informed about Santa’s sleigh since 1955. But this was the first time it used Twitter.

“Santa and his sleigh just zipped under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA! Did anyone spot him through the fog?” one of the notes said.

There are likely to be more serious Twitter uses for Northern Command, which coordinates the military’s disaster response for most of the U.S.

Michael Kucharek, a NORAD and Northern Command spokesman, said he anticipates sending “tweets” to hurricane victims to let them know where to find emergency water trucks.

“During Hurricane Katrina, while cell phones didn’t work, text messaging and e-mail worked through Blackberry,” Kucharek said. “This is one more way of getting information to people in the event of an emergency.”

U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. troops in the Middle East and Central Asia, isn’t yet on Facebook. But officials are interested in venturing there and similar sites.

“It’s audience that you can’t reach any other way. That’s the whole point — there are folks who get their information and news through the Web,” said Air Force Maj. John Redfield, Central Command spokesman. “They don’t watch CBS and ABC and NBC. Not that there is anything wrong with that — that’s just how they choose to get their information. And we have to choose to reach them.”

What about cyber-criticism?

There’s a lot of room on social networking pages for comments, so it’s easy to imagine critics — anti-war activists, for example — peppering military sites with complaints.

Lt. Cmdr. Chuck Bell, Pacific Command spokesman, said that’s OK.

“That’s all part of the dialogue that takes place in the social media realm. We’re prepared for that,” Bell said. “We hope the social media tools may give us an opportunity to respond to those sentiments.”

Pacific Command has no plan to remove anything from its pages, except for posts that are offensive or classified, Bell said.