A Social Media Experiment Gone Awry

Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell, 210th MPAD

Wired Magazine’s Spencer Ackerman reports that the US Marine Corps booted embedded journalists working for the cutting-edge social media site “Basetrack” from Helmand, Afghanistan.

According to their website, Basetrack consists of eight “mobile media operators”, who file dispatches from Afghanistan incorporating the latest in social networking, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Digg.

Yet, it wasn’t the actions of the journalists which concerned among Marine Corps brass.  As is par for the course in the 21st Century, the dark side of the Internet reared its ugly head:  some users divulged details of Marines wounded in action, while others posted complaints about the chain of command.

It’s unfortunate that a handful of commenters ruined what could have been a remarkable journalistic endeavor.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Though the potential for abuse is always existent, some military officials have carried out a wonderful dialogue with troops and their families without inviting 4-Chan style comments.

Lt. General Michael Oates, once the commander of the 10th Mountain Division, hosted one of the première military blogs, Task Force Mountain.com.  In the “sound off” section, then-Major General Oates and his successor, Major General James Terry, solicited feedback on a slew of issues ranging from providing better opportunities for single soldiers to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell“.

In the case of the latter, seasoned journalists were surprised at the maturity with which the soldiers of the 10th Mountain respectfully made their cases both for and against the repeal.  The debate featured thoughtful discussion of the second- and third-order effects on the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, including the plethora of issues which stemmed from legal recognition of gay marriage (or lack thereof).  A few service members–speaking under the conditions of anonymity–even shared their experiences with hiding their sexual orientation through decades worth of military service.

It’s worth noting, however, that the 10th Mountain Division’s “Sound Off” blog is heavily moderated, and this is paramount in establishing an effective social media site.  That ought to prevent spouses from clawing at each other as they did in one notable post at Tom Ricks’ The Best Defense.

About Crispin Burke

Major Crispin Burke is a US Army aviator qualified in the UH-60 and LUH-72 helicopters. Major Burke has served in the 82nd Airborne Division, 10th Mountain Division, and Joint Task Force-Bravo in Honduras. In what is likely a sad statement on the state of humanity, Major Burke's writings, musings, and irreverent cartoons have been featured at Small Wars Journal, National Defense University, Foreign Policy Online, Wired Magazine, Egremont, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Great Satan's Girlfriend.
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4 Responses to A Social Media Experiment Gone Awry

  1. Pete says:

    Speaking of the military using the Internet:

    Google Maps guide RAF pilots in daring rescue in desert
    By John Fahey

    Press & Journal
    Aberdeen, Scotland, UK
    Published: 08/03/2011

    RAF PILOTS who flew a daring rescue mission into the Libyan desert used a black and white Google Maps printout to land.

    The brave humanitarian crew had none of the usual high-tech guidance and support as they swooped to rescue British oil workers amid last week’s chaos and bloodshed.

    Flight Lieutenant Stuart Patton was in the cockpit for the nerve-wracking mission – which Tripoli’s air traffic control had not sanctioned.

    The 29-year-old from Chelmsford, Essex, said: “I’d been handed some information from the internet that had been hastily printed out, including a black and white satellite image from Google Maps.

    “You had to laugh and we knew were going to have to conduct an assessment of the site ourselves.

    “As the field came into view, it became clear there was a runway in decent condition, and after a close inspection proceeded to land and taxi to the area we’d identified as a suitable area to receive the passengers and to make a quick getaway.

    “While the crew sat waiting for news of the passengers, we laughed about the surreal situation we found ourselves in, sat on an unmanned runway hundreds of miles into the Libyan desert.”

    Ft Lt Patton’s C130 Hercules had collected its 40 terrified passengers when the plane had to leave urgently as Libyans tried to block it.

    “We need to go now,” the loadmaster shouted as ground troops bellowed the order “Go”.

    Ft Lt Patton said: “We’d prepped everything for this eventuality and were rolling down the runway before he’d finished his sentence.”

    An accompanying Hercules had 136 passengers on board.

    “Two aircraft in the middle of the desert, rescuing evacuees. Surreal,” the pilot said.

    Earlier in the week Ft Lt Patton, based at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, had rescued 64 Brits “and a dog”.

    He later flew a third mission saving 27 evacuees.

  2. Pete says:

    Does the software for this blog have a “Preview” mode for comments? My previous post was a mixture of bold and italic that wasn’t intended. The embedded guidance on HTML tags is incomplete in that it doesn’t show which tags to use to close the fields for those font options.

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