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It’s not #Viral unless it is

Social media timeline.

Social media timeline.

AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar --  People of all ages all over the world use social media daily. Believe it or not, the history of social media can be traced back to 1969. Today it is a major channel for networking, both personally and professionally, and social media has shown no signs of slowing down.

The opportunity to meet new people, find old friends, chat, join interest groups, and share photos and videos instantaneously at the touch of a button is very desirable and in.

To put the effect of today's social media into perspective, according to www.Insivia.com:

· One in four people worldwide used social media in 2013 (source: worldwide social network users: 2013 forecast and comparative estimates)
· Facebook has 665 million daily users and 1.1 billion monthly users (source: Growing Social Media)
· YouTube has 6 billion hours of video watched per month (source: Growing Social Media) · Pinterest has approximately 50 million users (source: Reuters)
· Twitter users send 400 million tweets each day (source: Nielsen)
· Instagram users upload 40 million photos to the site each day (source: Nielsen)

That means one photo, one comment, or one video has a lasting effect and is seen by many. Unfortunately, despite all the positives of social media, there are always negatives and those negatives are magnified for military members who are held to a higher standard.

Over the past two weeks, we have witnessed a few examples of military members posting inappropriate photos on Facebook that have created severe backlash for the branch of service and the military as a whole. There is the Airman who tongue kissed the POW/MIA emblem; the Soldiers who posed inappropriately with a flag-draped training casket and said, "We put the 'fun' in funeral;" and the latest being a selfie of a Soldier boasting she was hiding in the car to avoid saluting the flag. By virtue of wearing a uniform, we represent the entire military, sometimes American values overall and these disrespectful displays by service members can have a lasting impression.

The Department of Defense encourages our military members to use social media to share experiences as Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors or Marines and views it as a value-added capability for communication and information dissemination. However, we must be aware of what we are posting and how it is perceived by others.

Leaders should encourage their service members to tell their story through social media, just like public affairs tells the stories about the men and women in uniform. Be honest about your unit and mission without violating operational security and force protection.

For example, do not share personally identifiable information, troop movements, sensitive or classified information, mission planning or operations, or names of killed service members. It also helps to customize your privacy and geotagging settings. Keep your interactions conversational and informal, yet professional and tasteful, tasteful being the key word.

While military members are not excluded from the rights given by the First Amendment, there is still a different application of those rights within the military community. By nature of our profession, we are always "on record" and must represent our service's core values. To paraphrase the UCMJ, your words cannot be prejudicial to good order and discipline in the armed forces or amount to conduct of a nature bringing discredit upon the armed forces.

You are personally responsible for what you say or post on social media mediums. Consider how a comment or a photo might be perceived by the public. Consider the fine line between funny and distasteful. Consider cultural differences or anything that violates the "zero tolerance" policy regarding discrimination or sexual harassment. When in doubt err on the side of caution or seek the guidance from your public affairs office.

The dynamic nature of social media allows us to interact with diverse audiences in a transparent environment and this has evolved into the primary means of communications for friends and families, as well as service members and leadership.

It is an overwhelmingly positive avenue for dissemination of the military story and its people, a story that cannot be shared enough. We just need to safeguard that what we post, tweet, like, follow, or hashtag is sending the right message, the message that our Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines are putting service before self and making America proud.