June 1, 2016, by David McCauley – Maintaining the public image of the United States military is an important part of gaining national and global support. These perceptions change over time and are heavily influenced by social media interactions. Servicemen and women are tasked with representing their branches of service with honor at all times. When done correctly, it can help humanize a military that is often misunderstood.
The American military is deployed across the globe and stationed in hundreds of military bases. Public opinions at home and abroad can change how servicemen and women feel about their mission and service. Public opinion doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Take the American military presence in Japan as an example. These forces were placed to occupy the nation in the aftermath of the Second World War. Japan is no longer occupied, yet resentment is still harbored toward the remaining military presence. This complicates the relationship between the local population and military personnel.
The conduct of American soldiers, sailors, marines, and aviators directly reflects upon the United States as a whole. This image is difficult to manage in the information era because nations and their citizens are more connected than ever. 91% of the U.S. adult population alone owns a cell phone, and the majority are smart phones capable of high resolution photo and video. Incidents of misconduct, crime, and violence harm are easily captured and incredibly harmful. The internet allows us to share opinions and news at the touch of a button. Social networking is the future of mobile phone usage. Acts or valor or misconduct can be broadcast to a global audience with a single key press.
The military holds a unique position in American culture. Public esteem ebbs and flows, and can be a double-edged sword. Being esteemed often means being held to a higher standard of conduct. This is particularly important in the mobile and online focused world we now live in. Nearly everyone uses mobile devices and social networking, even those in the service. After initial apprehension, the military opened up access to these things to the men and women of the armed forces. It’s encouraged to talk about life in the military, provided it doesn’t negatively reflect upon the service or their command.
The ubiquity and convenience of the cell phone is why the military has adapted cell phones for deployment. It’s battlefield access to military networks, systems, and applications. The standards and security measures we apply to our personal accounts is increased tenfold, necessitating a healthy respect for careful consideration.
It’s an important avenue of opening communication between civilians and the military community. By all accounts, it engenders greater understanding by allowing an inside look at life in the service. There are many interactions that servicemembers may face online. When acting in a formal capacity, professionalism is expected at all times. These social interactions can directly influence the public’s perception of the armed forces. Similar to the social media interactions businesses face, the military will have detractors online. How and when uniformed men and women interact with these vocal complaints requires careful consideration. On social media, the general public often ask questions or express concerns. There are many ways to measure the effectiveness of these public interactions. Handling these interactions with dignity and respect can help create public support and reinforce positive perceptions. Transparency and accountability are both hallmarks of public engagement. This must be balanced with proper security measures.
The steps being taken to humanize members of the military give civilians a glimpse at life inside the service. Having open access to these voices and opinions allows us the opportunity to move past stereotypes and build bridges of understanding. With this openness comes a greater responsibility to act professionally. Careless public comments can have repercussions beyond social media circles. Be aware of your global audience and act accordingly. If you can strike a balance between professionalism and humanity, the public image of the military will be better for it.
About the Author: D.M. McCauley is a former U.S. Navy sailor who worked in Intel. After the service he has dedicated his time to writing and traveling with his significant other.