Family OPSEC: How Facebook and Social Media Can Hurt

Blogging is a wonderful way to share our military family experiences with the outside world. The same goes for using Twitter and status updates on Facebook and all the other ways we now can use social media to tell our own stories.

But do you have your own OPSEC social media plan for your family? All my military friends probably are nodding their heads saying of course we do. But here are a few items that probably were not mentioned at the last deployment briefing you went to.

Accepting Facebook friend requests from media

I worked in the media for 15 years before I married my wonderful husband who is a 20+ year veteran of the Air Force. So naturally I have loads of friends on Facebook who work in media. Most are close friends who would never use my status updates for a story without talking to me first. However, I’ve had two instances where reporters who “friended” me on Facebook and whom I had known professionally for close to a decade wrote entire articles based on my Facebook posts and it never even occurred to them to ask me if I was OK with that. Fortunately for our family both pieces were positive but imagine the potential damage if these had been negative stories?

Ever since then I have learned to use the custom privacy settings on my status updates when the update refers to a topic I only want to share with my military community friends. I do this to ensure that whatever conversation I may have with my friends stays private and doesn’t end up on some media blog or in the next day’s newspaper.

You may think a reporter or a producer will ask you permission to use your posts for publication. Some will ask but unfortunately not all will think it’s necessary. So some of your private thoughts meant for just friends and not for broadcast are at risk of becoming news material. Think how often we blow off steam online – and it’s just that, blowing off steam. But for someone who is not familiar with military life and is pressed for time to turn a story on deadline, your “rant” may become an easy quote too tempting to resist.

Posting birthdays and anniversary dates

The other day I was reading a friend’s just published blog post. It was beautifully written and featured photos of the family members. The photo captions included the new baby’s first, middle and last name along with the baby’s exact birthday. Another photo showcased the couple’s wedding with the exact anniversary. Such detailed information in a public blog post is like an open invitation for identity theft.

Having a public family tree

We love our families and the ability claim your mother, father, siblings, etc. on Facebook can seem like a harmless little feature. Just the other day I noticed a friend of mine who is new to Facebook and currently lives overseas had posted her full name including her maiden name to her account. She also proudly displayed all the full names of her children and her husband with their exact birth dates and also her mother’s details – including her mother’s maiden name. Again, probably not the type of details you want to be posting.

Know the social media rules that cover your military member

The rules regarding social media usage by members of the US military have relaxed a lot in the last few years. But it’s a good idea to know exactly what rules cover your spouse and model your family’s personal social media “policy” to accommodate those  rules. This was a great help for our family when I managed my husband’s popular deployment blog in 2009 and 2010 and used Facebook to update our families who live in five different time zones on two continents.

Here are two documents that can be helpful as you plan your personal social media OPSEC policy:

Sample blogging OPSEC rules

How to report about deployment

Here’s to safe military blogging, microblogging, tweeting, facebooking, and flickering, digging, stumbling, etc!

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An Army Wife Thing: Giving Birth Over the Phone

Army wife Sarah and her deployed husband, Brian, share the birth of their daughter, Zaylee, over the phone.

By Jackie Dorr

My phone rang, it seemed relatively early in the morning so I figured it was probably Brian calling to check in and see how I was doing before I headed into work. 

 “Jackie, I am contracting and I am heading to the hospital,” it was Sarah! Haha, looking back I chuckle because I sprang into action as if it were my own child.  I threw some clothes on and picked up the phone to call into work.  My boss said she didn’t quite understand, but she knew “it must be an Army wife thing” and understood I needed to be there. 

Both of our husbands (both named Brian) were deployed together. So, we forged a bond quickly.  They had left only two or so months prior and her husband couldn’t make it back for the delivery of their third beautiful child.

Hospital staff helped fill up the room at the birth of Zaylee, an Army daughter.

After several hours of labor and an epidural, it was time to birth this little miracle. I stood on one side of Sarah while holding the hospital phone cradled between my shoulder and ear with her husband Brian on the line.   

It was really a funny moment. One of our friends stood on a chair at the head of the bed to get pictures. Sarah’s mom stood on the other side of her and the hospital staff took up half the room.  

Sarah made the birth of Zaylee seem effortless.

Sarah made it look easy, after only a short while of pushing there she was, such a breath-taking little girl.  They wanted to know who would be cutting the chord since Brian wasn’t there. Before I could think, I was asked to cut the umbilical chord.

Then (her) Brian asked me to take the phone over to the sweet little baby so he could hear her cry from thousands of miles away. He then asked me to bring him back to his courageous wife so that he could thank her and congratulate her.  It was such a sweet moment, and I can’t imagine what feelings he was experiencing hearing his newborn child take her first breaths.

My husband said it was neat on the other end. They had set it up so that Sarah’s Brian had privacy while listening to his wife bravely birth their child.  He said that everyone was on pins and needles with anticipation.

I left the hospital that evening exhausted but feeling blessed.  Once I got home I slipped into my comfy pajamas, and crawled into bed.  I was reflecting on the days events when my phone rang. It was late at night so again I assumed it was Brian calling to chat about the exciting day I just had.  

Jackie cuddles with newborn Zaylee so mom can get some sleep.

Sarah was on the other end. She wanted me to come back and stay the night.  Without hesitation, I put clothes back on and drove up to the hospital.

Sarah was exhausted from her long day, and wanted to sleep but Zaylee was wide-awake.  I took  the swaddled infant allowing Sarah to get her much deserved rest.  I cuddled with Zaylee that night knowing everything would be amazing for their family and feeling very lucky to be so close to them.

To the people I knew who weren’t in the military, they thought this to be strange, but to us it wasn’t   Our husbands were gone and we became close like a family.  Without each other, we would be in it alone.

Sarah introduces Zaylee to her siblings.

Sarah’s daughter was absolutely beautiful and perfect in every way. Her husband didn’t get to witness her birth, but he did get to experience it.  Sarah’s husband missed Zaylee’s first year of life as well. They deployed late in 2006 and didn’t return until January of 2008.

I feel blessed to have been included in such a special moment and I will always share that bond with Sarah, Zaylee and her Brian.  One blessing us army families have is that our “family” is much larger than just us.

Jackie Dorr is an Army spouse, mother of two, president of the MacDill Enlisted Spouses Club and contributor to Off the Base.  Her other entries include:

Five Years, Two Kids and Four Deployments Later

“I Love You the Mostest!” an Army Spouse Goodbye

The Day I Saw My Future Husband Cry

Computer Kisses Keep Daddy Close

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