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October 14, 2011

Armywide News

Warnings expanded about social networking

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Army News Service) — The Army’s Online and Social Media Division (OSMD) is warning Soldiers and their Families about the perils of online identity theft and operational security violations in its newest update to the Army Social Media Handbook.

The two-year-old, five-person OSMD, which leads the Army’s social media engagement efforts from the Pentagon, fields close to a dozen calls and e-mails each week about phony Soldier profiles — most often on Facebook — or from lonely hearted women who have fallen prey to their scams.

“Fake profiles and impersonations is something that a lot of Soldiers are encountering,” said Staff Sgt. Dale Sweetnam, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the unit.

The Army has seen an explosion of cases in which online con men assume the identities of Soldiers at all levels, using images swiped from legitimate profiles or elsewhere. Typically, the scammer hooks a woman with romantic words and a hard-luck story before asking for cash or gifts.

A Taiwanese engineer made headlines recently when she claimed that she met Gen. David Petraeus, the CIA director and former commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, online and that he wanted to marry her. At the request of “Petraeus,” she sent $30,000, allegedly to cover his travel expenses, and she was sent a wedding ring.

Repeated targets for impersonation include top leaders such as Petraeus and recent Medal of Honor recipients Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry and former Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta, Sweetnam said.

On his own or in response to requests around the Army, Sweetnam said he contacts Facebook right away to have impersonator profiles removed, a process that can take a few minutes to a day.

Yesterday, I went looking for Sgt. 1st Class Petry, I found two and I took them down,” Sweetnam said. “When I go looking for them, I usually find them.”

Another top concern, operational security (OPSEC), is addressed in a newly expanded section of the handbook. A new checklist of safety measures advises commanders to ensure that Soldiers receive OPSEC training and that designated social media managers must monitor the unit’s official presence carefully for sensitive information.

“America’s enemies scour blogs, forums, chat rooms and personal websites to piece together information that can harm the United States and its Soldiers,” the handbook warns. “Be cautious when accepting friend requests and interacting with people online.”

A section for Army-sanctioned Family readiness groups advises leaders to steer clear of posting specific unit information and gossip. As an example, it suggests using vague language such as their Soldier is, “‘operating in southern Afghanistan’ as opposed to ‘operating in the village of Hajano Kali in Arghandab district in southern Afghanistan.’”

The handbook, first launched in January, provided Soldiers with basic guidance after the Army first sanctioned official social networking activities. The update, released in August, aims to answer the rush of activity that followed.

“Once the first handbook was released, it showed not only that there was a social media presence in the Army, but a way forward,” Sweetnam said.

New to this edition is a glossary of social media terms, tools and websites that spans “Application Programming Interface” to “Zooomr,” an online photo-sharing service.

As in the first edition, the handbook leaves to the commander’s discretion some thorny questions, like whether to “follow” subordinates or whether to use the commander’s own profiles to mention off-duty activities.

“It brings to light that there is a gray area,” Sweetnam said. “It’s evolving, and that’s where we’re relying on subordinate units to develop their own policies ... as long as they follow the guidelines from the top.”

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