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                 civilian simply spreading information they believe to be true. Misinformation exists about leadership at every level – motives behind decisions, command climates, training and deployment timelines,
just to name a few. Social media managers need
to be prepared to encounter misinformation in
the social media space, and deliver accurate and timely command information to the contrary.
In the summer of 2020, misinformation was plentiful regarding the deaths of multiple Soldiers at Fort Hood, none more publicized than the disappearance and homicide of SPC Vanessa Guillen. Family members upset about the perceived lack of progress in her investigation, private citizens with no ties to the military or the Guillen family, and politicians alike, began a massive social media campaign, elements of which included
false information about the investigation and the leadership at Fort Hood. This forced the Army to respond not only in news media, but especially via social media, to counter the misinformation being circulated regarding her investigation. How could the leadership at Fort Hood acted differently to prevent such a backlash of negative social media encounters regarding the investigation of SPC Vanessa Guillen? What lingering effects still exist from this protracted social media encounter?
The third area subordinate commands and individual units should focus their social media efforts is simply to increase access, or general knowledge to the average American, about the military, and in particular, the Army. According to the last U.S. Census, less than one percent of the U.S. population is currently serving in the military, and roughly five percent of Americans are Veterans. Even if you quadruple that number (accounting for two parents and two siblings/children of veterans), that’s less than 25% of the U.S. population that has served or has had an immediate family member
serve in the military. That leaves an astounding 75% of the U.S. population that knows very little about the U.S. military from a direct source. In
a day in age when 244 million Americans have access to information at their fingertips, we cannot sit idly by while 75% of Americans are educated about our military through indirect sources. Proactive outreach to the uninformed American
is a massive opportunity to close the civil-military divide. The simplest of social media posts, shared and re-shared across social media platforms, can dynamically change the way Americans view their military. Traditions like leaders serving lunch
and dinner at Thanksgiving, the first salute for
the newly-commissioned officer, holiday tree lighting ceremonies, promotion and re-enlistment ceremonies, and memorials for fallen comrades, the list goes on and on. The general public lacks access to unfettered material from “behind the curtain,” As a result, it is uninformed at best, lacking trust and spreading misinformation at worst. What appears to be benign and mundane to those familiar can be extraordinary to those that lack the experience and context we have. What was the last Army ceremony, tradition, or event you shared on social media?
Did anyone not familiar with the military react positively to being informed?
Common arguments from unit leaders who are hesitant to get involved in social media campaigns for their organizations are, “I don’t have enough time to manage it,” or “It’s just not worth the risk to delegate management of social media sites.” Time is undoubtedly a precious and finite resource. A lack of prioritizing social media engagement or
a lack of time management will certainly prevent
a leader from reaching their potential audience. Personally, as an Army leader who manages three personal social media pages and three professional (Unit) social media pages, I can assure you that I spend more time signing my name on the myriad of administrative documents that come across
my desk than I do managing those six social
media sites. I prioritize it because it’s essential to my organization’s success, and I manage my time appropriately to stay active. The “lack of time” argument has never carried much weight with
me. I think it’s an excuse to simply disavow one’s responsibility as a leader to engage the civilian population we serve. Additionally, the sheer volume of professional discourse and exposure to Army senior leader themes and messages a leader is voluntarily surrendering by not being active on social media is disheartening.
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