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Social networking and 'that guy'

DAVIS MONTHAN AFB, Ariz. -- Did you ever say something out loud or do something stupid, in front of a bunch of people and wish you never had? You know what I mean, that sinking feeling in your stomach combined with the knowing looks on the faces of people around you that say, "Dude, what were you thinking!"

No matter how much backpedaling you do, you can't always fix your gaff. Only time and someone else's misfortune will make people forget your momentary lapse in judgment. At least, that's how it used to be. Welcome to 2010.

Internet sites such as Facebook, Myspace and similar social networking sites have seen huge increases in membership. They're a great way to connect with old friends and stay in touch with current ones. These sites also provide awesome conduits for information. Too bad they can also be a treasure trove of information that you may not want everyone to know about.

No longer are your comments and actions confined to a small audience that might take pity on you and just laugh for a few moments. Once something is out on the internet, you lose control of it; it doesn't go away and you don't know what someone will do with that information. If it involves pain or stupidity, that information will spread faster than you could ever imagine. We've all seen the pictures or YouTube video and laughed, grateful it wasn't us.

While most are no big deal, some postings can be damaging to a future job, even if taken out of context. That photo with your buddies that looked so funny at the time might not look so funny to your boss or your spouse. It might also be funny to the prosecutor since you made his case that much easier. Your posting about how "I won't really get to enjoy that new 60 inch plasma TV I just bought since I'm deploying with my unit to Afghanistan from May through August" is just asking for it. Now you've not only exceeded the operational security threshold possibly putting others at risk, you've also invited someone to come on over and take your personal property while you're deployed.

How about if it negatively reflected on your squadron or the Air Force? So someone recognized your mistake and suggested you take it off the site ... good idea, but it may be too late. Someone else may have downloaded and posted your information somewhere else. Once it's out there, it's out there for good and really never goes away. Try Googling yourself sometime. This sounds like common sense but it happens every day to military members and civilians alike.

At work we focus a lot of attention on OPSEC. In this day and age it's even more important to practice good OPSEC, including your own personal OPSEC. Don't forget your friends and families too. They probably don't think in terms of OPSEC the way we do and are very likely to post information that can be just as revealing. Everyone has access to these sites from home and the Air Force now allows similar access on government computers. Using these sites is like turning 21 and being allowed to legally drink, it's a blast, but it comes with great responsibility. Make sure you make the right decision.

So have fun on Facebook or whichever site you use, just think it through before you post something and be responsible for your actions. Information you send out to your friends and family on social networking sites can reap great benefits, but in the wrong hands it can have a negative impact on you, your family, your friends your Air Force. So don't be "that guy." Remember, you control the information ... until you hit send.