AUSTRALIA’S military could eventually use social media to give the public a blow-by-blow account of some operations, similar to the way Israel used Twitter in the recent Gaza conflict, a senior Defence official says.
But that’s a long way off, with the Australian Defence Force still developing a strategy to better handle social media usage among its ranks.
ADF director general of public affairs Brigadier Alison Creagh today discussed the opportunities and challenges presented by social media and how its use by the ADF could evolve.
The challenges are well known, with the “Skype sex scandal” involving two young ADFA cadets last year sparking an outcry and an internal review of social media use within the army, navy and air force.
More recently, Defence launched an investigation after a number of soldiers made violent, anti-Islamic remarks on Facebook accompanied by photos of themselves carrying machine guns in response to a Muslim protest in Sydney.
There are also real security risks in allowing soldiers to post photos or communicate with loved ones via social media while abroad, even if such contact boosts morale, Brigadier Creagh says.
But if used correctly, social media could be a “powerful tool” to allow soldiers to tell their own stories and promote the ADF to wider audiences.
“We shouldn’t be so risk-averse that we actually don’t encourage people to use social media, just on the off-chance that they might do something wrong,” Brigadier Creagh told a Social Media in Defence Forum in Canberra.
“There’s more people that do the right thing than do the wrong thing.”
The ADF is considering mandatory defence-wide training on social media to complement its existing programs, with a formal policy response to the department’s internal review expected within six months.
Brigadier Creagh said defence was “not that sophisticated yet” at running social media but made gains during last year’s Exercise Talisman Sabre in 2011 with US forces.
The ADF ran a “dynamic” social media campaign through an active Facebook page providing details of everything from fuel spills to strategic operations.
It could evolve into something more but whether it reaches the scale of Israel’s unprecedented use of social media during the November campaign in Gaza is yet to be seen.
The Israeli Defence Force used its Twitter account to announce it had killed Hamas operatives and even threatened a full-scale ground offensive.
While Brigadier Creagh didn’t know if the ADF would ever use social media to this extent, “I wouldn’t say never”.
“As we learn about social media and as we understand how to use it effectively, you would potentially see the capacity to have much more active running commentaries,” she said.
“Would it ever be that minute-by-minute, near real time or almost real time, I think depends on what the issue is.”
The sheer manpower required to run a non-stop Twitter campaign would be “extraordinary” and most likely beyond ADF resources.
However, from Israel’s perspective the use of social media during the Gaza campaign was “very powerful” and “pretty compelling”, Brigadier Creagh said.