Social Media has infiltrated into every field, every part of our lives. It’s not just businesses and politics that social media has taken over; defence systems of countries were affected too. Concepts like information warfare, electronic warfare, and cyber warfare were seen brought into action as early as the 20th century. Social media is also being used as a recruitment tool by terrorists; not to mention the effect it has on the youth when it comes to political and social views.
All of this leaves you wondering what the Indian Army is doing with this modern, powerful tool.
Social Media and the Armed Forces
In a recent gathering of the senior officials of all the three armed forces, Army chief Bipin Rawat highlighted the importance of social media in today’s defence scenario and the need to train personnel for using it properly. He said that “if the armed forces don’t keep pace with time and the manner in which the social media is moving forward then it will be “fire-fighting” to keep up with time.”
The viral nature of social media is both, an opportunity and a threat to the armed forces. The risks involve a soldier forgetting to disable geo-tagging while on the field, accidentally giving out confidential information in the middle of a mission, or engage in disorderly conduct during a heated Battle of the Keyboards. There are a lot of things that can go wrong, but most of them can be prevented with proper training.
The UK military has already accepted social media being a part of their personnel’s lives; in fact, they even encourage it while giving guidelines that ensure discipline and cyber safety. The guidelines clearly state that, while the soldiers can use social media just as any civilian, they are expected to keep in mind the information they’re giving out, both personal and operational, and the consequences it can have.
In a study done on EU armed forces, it was found that almost all of them used social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. They also use Instagram, Google+, Linkedin, and blogs with low frequency. However, there were only 11 that had a proper strategy in place. When asked about risks and opportunities of using social media, almost half recognized the opportunities it held while the rest acknowledged the fact that it has risks as well, the biggest being the risk of soldiers potentially revealing sensitive information. But none of the participants believes that the risks outweigh the opportunities.
The Opportunities of Leveraging Social Media
Social media offers the armed forces two big opportunities: marketing and communication. By being active on social media and consistent in posting, the military can garner trust and understanding among the civilians and build a relationship with them.
Other than marketing, these platforms are also useful for combating fake news and information warfare. Trained personnel can also engage in cyberwarfare to fight against terrorist hacktivism and dampen recruitment efforts done by terrorist groups. On the communications front, a majority of the participants from the study mentioned above agree that social media facilitates a two-way communication with civilians and increases transparency. Also, individual personnel can also use social media to contact and keep in touch with their loved ones. So, not only do social media platforms provide strategic advantages, but they also offer personal benefits to the armed forces personnel.
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The Social Media Guidelines
While social media offers ample opportunities to the armed forces, both on official and personal levels, the risks cannot be ignored. From the leaking of sensitive information to the unintentional spreading of disinformation, the risks are many. To avoid and combat these risks, the UK Government has come up with ‘Think before you share online’, a guidance manual for defence personnel. It’s important to note that these guidelines can (and more often than not, should) be followed by civilians like you and me as well.
1. Security and Privacy Settings
Each social media platform has privacy settings that can be customized. This manual suggests that these settings need to be looked at as soon as someone joins the platform and checked and updated regularly as they are prone to be changed by the developers. It warns against sharing information with these platforms before finding out where this information ends up.
2. Pictures and Videos
Visuals are powerful assets and even bigger liabilities in the wrong hands. Before posting any image or video, be mindful of what you’re revealing through them and know that, unless you have customized your privacy settings, anyone can see those images. Consider if you want to identify yourself or those around you or your location, how you’re representing yourself and your profession, and how the images can be interpreted.
3. Location Services and Geo-tagging
Almost all social media platforms and search engines function have the ability to collect your location information, regardless of what device you’re using. In fact, some platforms, like Foursquare, work solely based on this information. If you haven’t changed your settings, there are high chances of people using this information to work out your routine or residence; keep this in mind while virtually checking in to any place.
4. Friends and Family
Friends and families of army personnel usually have information about their deployment, travel arrangements, current locations, and a general idea about missions that they’re a part of. It is important to educate any such people about the risks of letting such sensitive information out in public. This ensures that they don’t give away information that they’re not meant to.
5. Commenting and Debating
Social media doesn’t only include platforms like Facebook and Twitter; blogs are also considered to be a part of it. Most blogs don’t have the same level of security that the big platforms have; they are easier to search and keep their information easily accessible for longer. It is important that, in such cases, no army personnel should give out sensitive information that can potentially breach operational security in comments or forums, whether on duty or off duty.
They should also make sure not to give personal information like names, addresses, or other such information about them, their loved ones, or anyone else without prior permission.
6. Scams, Fraud, Hoaxes, Phishing and Blackmail
Given the popularity of social media and improvements in email filters, scammers are using the social media platforms with increasing frequency. They use the information they get from these platforms to perform various forms of cyber crimes, including identity fraud, terrorist hacktivism, and spreading of disinformation.
Both, army personnel and civilians need to be aware of the consequences of phishing, scams, frauds, and hoaxes and ways to combat them. Armed forces especially need to be aware of basic computer viruses and a general notion of what constitutes a cybercrime.
- Always use a strong password that cannot be guessed easily. Also, make sure to use a different password for each site and change it frequently.
- Fake sites have a special knack of having URLs and page layouts that look a lot like the original sites. Always double-check that you’re in the official site before logging in.
- Keep an eye out for suspicious links, requests to share sensitive information, and unusual online behaviour from friends and followers. Report such incidences immediately.
- Limit the information you provide on your profiles and use privacy settings to your advantage.
- As far as possible, don’t use pictures with your face (or faces of loved ones) as your profile picture.
- Regularly update your computer software and anti-virus software to keep your device virus-free.
- Never trust third-party applications, no matter how legit they look.
- If it seems too good to be true, it probably is (this applies to offers and schemes).
As Army chief Bipin Rawat said, “Social media is here to stay. Soldiers will use social media as a means of communication. Our adversary will utilise social media for psychological warfare. We must also leverage social media to our advantage.”
Social media and technology have changed how the world works. Everyone is using it to get in touch with long lost friends, be in touch with loved ones, promote themselves or their business, and even recruit employees. Even most of the world’s defence system has adopted social media into their operations. Now, it is left to see how the Indian Armed Forces deal with it.
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