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Tweeting From the Front Line 84

blackbearnh writes "There's an interesting article up on O'Reilly Radar talking about how the US military is reacting to the increasing use of social media by soldiers in hostile territory. In an interview, Price Floyd, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, talks about the trade-offs between operational security and allowing soldiers and the public to interact, and how social media has changed the way the DoD communicates with the public. 'I think that we need to become much more comfortable with taking risk, much more comfortable with having multiple spokesmen out there, thousands of spokesmen in essence. But, for me, there's nothing more credible than the men and women who are out there on the front lines, fighting the wars that we're in, sending messages back to their family and friends.'"
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Tweeting From the Front Line

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  • by spyder913 ( 448266 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:50AM (#32001400)

    Right now my brother is in active duty in Afghanistan, and the fact that they have internet from their barracks is huge for their morale, and for the morale of his wife and my parents. The level of communication we can have with him is beyond what I imagine people in any past war would have dreamed possible.

    He got to see his new nephew who was born while he's been deployed thanks to skype.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Angst Badger ( 8636 )

      I can only imagine. I don't think most civilians understand the level of isolation that soldiers endure, even in peacetime. Add to that the stress of being shot at, and being able to talk to people back home has got to be tremendously comforting. As long as the troops are trained to safeguard operational security -- as if they didn't have a very strong incentive to do so anyway -- any risk has got to be outweighed by the boost in morale.

      Anyway, best wishes to your brother. I hope he gets to see his nephew i

    • My brother-in-law returned from another tour in Afghanistan, and he was able to talk to my sister nearly every day from the other side of the world, which can only help a relationship. Contrast this to when my sister was deployed in the first Gulf War and I'd send her a letter that maybe she'd get one day, and maybe be able to reply to. Technology has transformed so much. But locations, missions and movements should never be allowed to go out over Twitter, Facebook, et. al. This is probably already poli
  • by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:52AM (#32001430)


    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )
      So, they would be happy about killing foreign nationals working for the military? Because from my understanding, "haji" is a semi-derogatory name used to refer to, say, Pakistani or Saudi drivers who were contracted out to provide support for the troops. Pretty sure the military uses other terms for the Taliban/insurgents.
      • No, it's a generic term for the enemy and civilians in Iraq (probably Afghanistan too though I'm not sure). It's very similar to the way soldiers called Viet Cong Charlie or Germans Gerries. I'm not sure how the word originally came into military slang, maybe Hadji from Johnny Quest?
  • Misleading title (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Coward Anonymous ( 110649 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:53AM (#32001444)

    It should be Tweeting From Just Behind the Front-Line.
    The Front-Line folks are too busy getting shot at to Tweet. It's the support folks who get to do the tweeting (and have all the other fun)...

    • by Message ( 303377 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @12:01PM (#32001568)

      Where do you define the front line in asymmetric warfare? Chances are those support personnel have just as much chance to get blown up by an IED while conducting a logistics convoy or from a mortar round lobbed at the base, and that is not even accounting for the growing number of support personnel that are doing traditionally combat roles... perimeter defense, access control points, roadblocks, etc.

      A lot of my friends are infantry types that manage to tweet or get on facebook while deployed. We had decent internet access during OIF I back in 2003...

      • by tibman ( 623933 )

        I think a front-line is drawn between two people exchanging fire. If you are in a FOB, LogBase, TCP, or other established point.. you are no longer at the front-line. You are definitely in the vicinity, yes, but on it? no.

        Ok, i think of it like this.. ammo goes to the front where it is fired at the enemy. If you are passing ammo forward, you are in the rear. If you are holding ammo in prep for a fight, you are near the front. If you are expending ammo and being supplied more (double points for re-suppl

        • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Spoken like someone who has never actually seen warfare in his life. There is no "front" or "rear" in Afghanistan, and there can't possibly be where there are not men in uniforms that can be clearly identified. In WWII you could confidently declare certain areas to be "front" or "rear" since you could identify the enemy as being present in certain areas. Not so in Afghanistan. You could be struttin down Disney Blvd on Bagram Airfield one second, on the largest and most secure base in Afghanistan, and the ne

    • by laejoh ( 648921 )
      It's not that bad#{èkn095.ç NO CARRIER
  • Military Tracking? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheKidWho ( 705796 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:53AM (#32001446)

    With some sort of Algorithm could one not track troop movements and strengths then?

    • by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @12:06PM (#32001644)

      If fighting a more technically advanced and well organised foe this would be more important.

      it's a tradeoff, morale vs intelligence leaks and the morale factor can be worth it.

      Also I image you could also be mislead just as easily.

      An intelligence channel which you know the enemy has access to is orders of magnitude less valuable to them than a channel which you don't know they have access to since once you know about it you can feed false info when it's useful to you.

      it's why quite a bit of effort went into convincing the germans that enigma hadn't been broken when it in fact had.

      Also troops on the front line who's necks are on the block as it were will tend to pay more attention to the stuff about loose lips sinking ships etc.

    • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @12:07PM (#32001666)

      With some sort of Algorithm could one not track troop movements and strengths then?

      Yes its a simple algorithm, go to news.google.com and search for "afghanistan troop strengths"

    • @OpsBase: Closin in on cnfrmd Osama loc now. Our 1 blindspot is HUGE RED BARN in middle of AB BALA (3443N 6744E) Hope he not hidin there at 0800 2moro
    • With some sort of Algorithm could one not track troop movements and strengths then?

      Statistically speaking, not very accurately.

      Engaged troops are not tweeting while deployed. We are talking people at a barracks and those locations are hardly secret.

      Mobile units are not likely to be tweeting while on recon. A goat herder with a cell phone can just as easily report troop movements.

      But let us assume there is some deployed tweeting going on.

      A: We would first need to know the average # of tweets per troop given a time frame (lets say 1 hour).

      B: We could try and gauge, via normal distri

    • Probably not. The connections are probably proxied.
  • by Vinegar Joe ( 998110 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:53AM (#32001450)
  • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @12:15PM (#32001774)

    he talks about the trade-offs between operational security and allowing soldiers and the public to interact,

    Let me rephrase that for you: they're torn between the need for operational security, and using soldiers for good PR. Otherwise, the press wouldn't have had to fight tooth and nail to be allowed to attend or photograph the ceremonies where dead soldiers are unloaded from cargo transports.

    Blogging/twittering is just the modern version of the WW2 propaganda films. Look at our romantic heros, off to fight for justice and democracy! Look at our gritty, determined fighters putting up with horrible conditions and a bitter enemy! Give a voice to front-liners and you see what narcissistic people in the war want you to see. For example, the IED that gets blown up on the side of the road harmlessly...not the one that kills half the soldier's friends. And all the people with internet access are the ones doing Club Med tours- not the ones fighting in the trenches and caves.

    One only need look at that attack helicopter video to see the stark difference between reality and what soldiers and the military want us to see.

    • And all the people with internet access are the ones doing Club Med tours- not the ones fighting in the trenches and caves.

      Right, because the people who fight in trenches and caves don't ever return to base.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by number17 ( 952777 )
      Im not sure this is actually a troll. Propoganda by allies was huge in WWII and delaying/not reporting bad news was a must. Check out the CBC documentary, Love Hate and Propoganda, that aired a couple weeks ago: http://www.cbc.ca/documentaries/lovehatepropaganda/ [www.cbc.ca]
  • OPSEC is a fallacy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by adosch ( 1397357 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @12:17PM (#32001794)

    Being in the military and deployed during the first and second rotation of Operation Iraqi Freedom (which was during the dawn of MySpace and Facebook just 'starting' to get popular when I was heading back to the states), I think my opinion would hold some weight as to say there are very few tradeoffs unless you make sure soliders Twitter and Facebook profiles are private and stay that way. I think with that, it would be no more insecure than having a weak password associated with your web-email account.

    E-mail may not be 'cool' anymore to do, but it works and it's effective. I think the U.S. military caves on this because they share the same belief I do: it's a lost cause and too hard to corral [slashdot.org]. If you discipline or 'educate' your enlisted folk not to use it, some officer is going to break their own rules and do it and it's *always* going to be too-much-information leaked.

    If you have 'that' much free time on your hands in a war zone, as a solider, to be updating your profile and status on social networks several times a day, you probably have absolutely zero business being there in the first place.

    • [quote]If you have 'that' much free time on your hands in a war zone, as a solider, to be updating your profile and status on social networks several times a day, you probably have absolutely zero business being there in the first place.[/quote] Back in OIF I & II this may have been the case. But for most people over there now it's sustainment, so when you have your day or two off a week you actually do have some free time to do things like this. And it's getting that way for OEF also. I was in OIF
  • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @12:21PM (#32001874)

    Before the Normandy invasion, the Allies used fake radio traffic, to convince the Germans that the real invasion was coming to Pas de Calais by an army led by Patton: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Fortitude [wikipedia.org]

    Why not Tweet a couple of fake attacks to scare the bejesus out of the enemy?

    Enough of these, and the enemy won't be able to determine who's who, and what's what.

    C'mon lazy ass psych-op guys! Get on it!

    • What the hell? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by copponex ( 13876 )

      In Afghanistan, we are not battling an army that has the same technology we do. We're battling an indigenous people who have been at war for fifty years, either between themselves or against an invader. Unfortunately for us, the only people they hate more than another tribe is foreign invaders, i.e. Americans.

      They are holed up in caves, stocking up on ammunition and resting until they have enough weapons, ammo, and food to launch another assault. Or they are building IEDs and monitoring regular troop moveme

    • by slick7 ( 1703596 )

      Why not Tweet a couple of fake attacks to scare the bejesus out of the enemy?

      Why not drop a whole bunch of bombs and scare them rightly so?

  • It's hard to control all those foot soldiers with access to broadcast tech. So they have to educate them how to lie as well. For example, do not use "snipers" when referring to an american soldier, use "sharpshooter". Sniper sounds too bad. Also, do not use the term "the country we are conquering", use the phrase "hostile territory."

  • lolz gonna blo d crap outta sum other beyatches in tanks. ps I'm at 31.184609,65.912476 kthxbai!

  • Exactly why are US troops carrying *personal* communications devices during military actions? Sure makes it easier for the enemy to track the troops, what with all the radio traffic from cell phones.

    Oh right... military intelligence.

    • In more than one instance, troops, cops and other emergency services have found their personal devices, (cellphones, GPS and sometimes even weapons) very useful. In one case, I seem to remember that a cell helped stop an insurgent's bullet...OK, a rare and extreme example.
      Thankfully, coalition troops seem to have better cell and satellite phone tracking capability than their current opponents.
      Maybe avoid signing up for Google 'Latitude' tho...

      A better question might be, why are we allowing cells to work in

  • what happens when cellular are captured by the enemy.

    This is Sgt R Soldier's twitter, stay tuned to al Jazeera at 7 pm local time and watch his head get chopped off.
    more tweets to follow.
  • @SquadB Contact Right, Fully Engaged, Send Help lol? Like the MRE pix btw!
  • Damn straight (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BenEnglishAtHome ( 449670 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @02:50PM (#32003838)

    ...there's nothing more credible than the men and women who are out there on the front lines...

    During a previous excursion into sandy bloodletting, under Bush The Elder, one of the few completely trustworthy accounts I got from the battlefield was a letter from the son of a co-worker. She was kind enough to share with me.

    There had been a friendly-fire incident that made the news. All the news accounts didn't seem to make sense. Everybody was spinning the story every way they could, madly, with little regard for truth. This mom, knowing her son was in the same group as the incident occurred, asked him about it. His letter, recieved well after the media circus had died out, was perfect.

    What I mean was, the man was *right there*, 20 yards from the source of the friendly fire. He was *right there* pulling dead Americans who had just been killed by other Americans out of their vehicles. And his story of who was where and when they did what was the only account of that situation that I had ever seen that actually made sense.

    Once you get off the front line, stories of war accrete bullshit until they're unrecognizable as even possible, much less the truth.

  • It's great to hear that, like any communication channel, that Twitter can have quite serious purposes. I've noticed a bit myself in a much less grave context - for example, Twitter noise on the matter has sometimes been the first to point out various news stories to me.

    And even if your main use for it is another way to goof around, then what's wrong with that? :)

    http://www.twitter.com/KingAlanI [twitter.com]

  • I think this is a great idea. It gives us real time feed of what is going on and the events the soldiers are experiencing right then and there. It also gives their family members a sense of what is going on with their loved ones and if they are ok.

Real programs don't eat cache.