When Facebook goes to war

or, What happens when social media like Twitter and Facebook begin mediating one of mankind’s oldest interactions:  organized armed aggression?  And what happens when the human urge to communicate interferes with the smooth operation of vital security missions? We know that neither our elusive terrorist enemies nor this battle has been decisive: who wins in the fight between the First Amendment and the right of commanders to safeguard the lives of  soldiers?  Which argument has more force?

Such is the debate suggested by  PRI’s The World radio show tonight.  It seems that the Basetrack project’s updates (Places-like?) of  reporters were deemed too compromising by the USMC with whom they had been “embedded” until this week. The Basetrack representative interviewed on the program claimed not to have received a sufficient reason for being “dropped” by its military partner.

And thus are many fans of the project disappointed tonight, to judge by posts on the site. A socially-mediated connection of people to this long and costly war has been cut. The warriors we have tasked to provide us safety in the homeland have seen this form of communication as too great a risk to their interests. Score one for the military.

But what if more war were Facebooked and Tweeted in a democratic republic like ours? Wouldn’t that make for more informed, and therefore better US citizens, able to assess more accurately the conduct of the enterprise they are paying for? Wouldn’t it make a difference if we could “follow” or “friend” the “defenders of [our] freedom”? Wouldn’t we more devotedly support our troops if we had this (admittedly “weak-tie”) relationship with them?

Posted herewith are some photos taken from the site. The first is what could be anyone’s tourist shot from an aircraft you might find on Facebook. But then you look closer and see the curious tanks (Soviet?) sitting on the landscape. Still, in a cursory look,  the photos posted do not seem too strategically important.

However, they do compromise the impersonal warrior image of our troops. The pictures humanize what can seem a pretty abstract and distant thing–the now longest-ever war that goes on in the background of the USA, with a relatively low volume of deaths we’re getting for our Defense budget. Looking at the marines lined up and smiling at the camera here, one can see their personalities, notice how they are all young men. One acknowledges the real people we call soldiers.

And one wonders why one can’t have more of such connections in one’s civic life?

I could be wrong, but I think the Marines might be missing out on an excellent promotional possibility via the social media. Everyone understands the need to keep sensitive information out of the stream. Beyond that, though, why not allow Mr. and Mrs. America to “link” with their soldiers? What new evolution of war-making are they trying to hold back?

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