Blogging Tensions: Security and Support
In 2005 the military approved Operational Security (OPSEC), a set of regulations that requires active and expired service members to seek the approval of their immediate supervisor and OPSEC officer for all posts to public forums. Updated in October 2006 and again in April 2007 OPSEC review “includes, but is not limited to letters, resumes, articles for publication, electronic mail (e-mail), Web site postings, web log (blog) postings, discussion in Internet information forums, discussion in Internet message boards or other forms of dissemination or documentation.”.
While OPSEC has been criticized as both an attempt to stifle military blogging (or milblogging) critical of the Iraqi War and defended as a necessary means for identifying, controlling, and protecting unclassified information that may be relevant to sensitive activity, such as unit locations and maneuvers (, little attention has been afforded to the effect of OPSEC on the online activity of military members’ families. As described by Wired News, regulations and penalties may also apply to military spouses, parents, and children who post to personal and public web sites and send email.
Although military families are not subject to the same review as those of active and retired military members, increased sensitivity and awareness of OPSEC has been recommended. Despite the changes brought by OPSEC, military families have continued to read, belong, and participate in political and community blogs. A review of online activity reveals that while OPSEC regulations may have changed the ways in which military families go about blogging, the guidelines have not changed the goals of anonymity, ideological support, and material support exhibited by military families online.
Military family members have incorporated concerns for operational security into goal directed online communication. Official military family sites, such as the 3d Marine Aircraft Wing’s Family Operational Security page, as well as public message boards with specific military focus have added OPSEC guidelines to their front pages, accompanied by reminders that “careless keystrokes kills.” Military family members have extended these cautions to social networking sites like myspace.com, and to public political blogs, such as Daily Kos and Red State.
Military member blogs provide a venue for spouses, children, parents, siblings, and others to share experiences and support while networking with others in similar situations. Military families are now balancing the need for social support with the goal of retaining anonymity. The community function of the internet is not new, but the ability to connect those who shoulder a disproportionate burden of America’s military operations abroad has resulted in a marked increase of online venues and activity among military families. At the same time, OPSEC requires higher concerns for anonymity among military families online than for other high-activity blogging interests, such as motherhood and parenting, technology, politics, and the like. Accordingly, military families using sites, such as The Military Family Network, are instructed to refrain from posting anything in general community forums that may reveal tactical information, and to resist email-based friendships where such information may be exchanged unless personal identity is first verified in face meetings.
As a result, military family postings in social networking and public blogs have notably changed. Rather than specifying branch or unit, or even deployment status of loved ones, military family members now post generally about family members who are serving. Other site members, aware of the regulations, are consequently less likely to question a new poster’s relationship to the military by seeking verification through information about unit or base. On one pregnancy and parenting website, one member posted pictures of her husband in uniform, prompting cautions from other military wives and an explanation of anonymity concerns from site moderators.
The need for anonymity has made it slightly more difficult for military family members to seek ideological support through blogging. Family members posting to sites like Spouse Buzz validate that the difficulties they experience are shared and justified by their service to the nation. Families posting to political sites, such as Red State and Daily Kos, more often seek ideological support for their personal opinions on the war in Iraq, and the consequences it has had for their family members. As the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq passes, disapproval of the planning, entry, and execution of the military campaign has increased among the American public. According to the most recent polling of military members, 35% now approve of Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq while 42% disapprove, and the number of military members who think victory is likely has fallen from 83% to 50% over the past two years. These indicators suggest that a similar shift has likely occurred among military family members, and has brought with it interesting changes in the tenor and type of posts on political websites. While military members receive expressions of support and appreciation for their service from both the right and the left, ideological support for opposition to the war in Iraq was a common goal for military family members posting to left-leaning political blogs during the run up to invasion and start of the war in Iraq. As public opinion has changed, it has become more common for supporters of the President and the war to seek affirmation on right-leaning weblogs.
Like the posting goals themselves, the effect of OPSEC on material support requests has been more tangible than the effects on communication seeking ideological support. Material support requests (for items such as Kevlar vests and desert combat fatigues) constitute a less frequent, but highly remarkable goal of military family members’ blogging. Prior to OPSEC, requests were made for individual soldier’s needs, and were usually accompanied by links to online accounts for donations. Military family members continue to seek material support for their family members serving abroad, but these requests have become non-specific. Rather than drawing attention to the hardship of a single service member, military families are now blogging on behalf of the collective armed forces stationed abroad by requesting donations to sites like Any Soldier, where active duty military members can post requests for food, personal hygiene items, and entertainment.
The goal-directed communication of military families online has not changed substantially since implementation of Operational Security. More significant changes have come about in the nature of the online community comprised of military families who balance their need for ideological and material support with concerns for anonymity and safety. Security measures will continue to affect the communication patterns of online communities as military family members negotiate the balance between security and support in a changing, online world.