Military strives to understand social media

By now, social media and networking are old hat to America’s youth. But to those in charge of keeping America safe, social media is just starting to be something more important than an obscure diversion for teenagers.

But as they enter the world of social networking, military leaders have to be careful in ways other users don’t.

“We have to remember the government is a different participant than other people in social media,” said James Carafano, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation who recently published Social Networking and National Security: How to Harness Web 2.0 to Protect the Country. “We also have to remember that there are downsides to the technology just like anything else.”

Carafano says there is the issue of classified information being leaked in a sort-of “social media experiment gone wrong” as well as concern that all information on the social networking sites isn’t accurate.

But the issues must be dealt with because the networks are here to stay, he said. This year alone, communication via Facebook has outpaced the total number of e-mails exchanged.

“We can’t just say ‘the government can’t do social media’,” said Carafano. “The fact is – the world is doing it. The government just needs to be smart about how it uses social media.”