Friday, February 26, 2010

Social Media Rule Change--Better for Bloggers?

Today the military opened up the rules on social media--Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and the others will be authorized unless temporarily blocked by local commanders. But the authority of local commanders, especially in a war zone, is hard for a civilian to imagine. In November last year, I was accused of an OPSEC violation on my blog.

I wrote a post a week after a missile attack on the base. I did not write about the attack itself, but about one of the dumbest soldiers in our unit. A missile hit the 800 horsepower (huge) generator outside his Living Area compound. It wrecked the generator but did not explode. The idiot in question took out his camera and climbed up on the smoking wreck of a generator to get a picture of the unexploded missile.

After seven days it was OK to post about the attack, but not to give a battle-damage assessment. I was giving away where one missile hit, that it wrecked a generator, and was a dud. Within hours I was in the office of the battalion intelligence officer. His wife was a daily reader of my blog. She found out about the attack through my blog. She was angry that she found out about the attack only through my blog, but I was OK talking about the attack. I just had to take down the battle damage. So I did.

Then a few hours later, I got a call saying I had to report to the commander's office on the other side of the base for an unspecified reason. This is part of the drama when any enlisted man gets accused. I was left to wonder what I did wrong. I thought it was the post, but since I did not always obey traffic laws on my bike--and I was rather easy to identify--I wondered if that was it.

So I rode around the base to report to the commander. When I arrived, the acting first sergeant, who was also the motor sergeant and still angry that I left the motor pool, told me I had to report formally to the commander. I did. Then the commander told me I had violated OPSEC by writing about the attack. He told me that I could be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The executive officer had already written a counseling statement.

I was doing my best not to smile while I was being accused, but I know I had "that look" on my face. It turns out the source of the accusation was a captain's wife. The captain was in another battalion on post. His wife also followed my blog. She was pissed at her husband for lying about the missile attack. The captain thought I should be busted for an OPSEC violation.

Along with moral lectures, we got many lectures on rumors. "Do not listen to hearsay," we heard. "Do not listen to rumors," they said. And here I was being accused at third hand. It turns out NONE of the men accusing me had looked at my blog before writing the counseling statement and threatening me with an Article 15 or worse. They had not spoken to the intell officer either.

When I got a chance to speak, I told them that I had spoken to the intell officer that morning and, in fact, the post was fine as long as I removed the battle damage assessment. By this time in the deployment, I had written more than 500 posts without being accused of an OPSEC violation. But these three guys are in charge, so each in turn gave me a five-minute lecture on blogging--even though none of them blog nor had any of them looked at my blog.

I have to think that if I had been a 20-something blogger that this incident would have convinced me to shut down the blog. Since I am 50-something writer on a one-year adventure, I'll admit that the threat got me excited. Immediately, I imagined how much fun it would be to be falsely accused and to become a cause celeb milblogger. I was channeling Clint Eastwood thinking "Go ahead. Make my day."

That's what local commander's discretion can mean. A soldier can get accused in the absence of facts and has little room to appeal. I'll be very interested to see how the new rules shake out on the milblogs.