Acting responsibly on social media

Two recent articles in newspapers are worth taking note of, both about social media and the importance that the Army is paying to this medium. Most of us, as veterans, receive a large number of messages which come as, “forwarded as received” and readily comply with the same. Do we need to pause for a while and examine these? Social media is here to stay, and everyone is in favour of a free-for-all social media, especially groups on WhatsApp. Along with freedom comes responsibility. Are we being responsible when we veterans forward a message that says “forwarded as received messages”? There is a wide range of articles especially about One Rank One Pension (OROP) which are very informative, and we thank those who have worked hard on them. 

There are other articles that are informative on various miscellaneous issues, ranging from matters of geostrategic concerns, birthdays, regimental news of veterans, and even some planted articles. The problem comes when such messages have character assassinating and scandalous content that somehow come with an impression of “very enjoyable reading”, written all over them. The first reaction is “see what these youngsters are up to, it never happened in our time”. Well, most we must thank the Lord “we never had social media to act as a mirror for us, or else the Lord help us”.

The problem comes from the messages that have character assassination, controversial after-action reports, and such stuff. These cannot originate from veterans. They originate from those who are affected and then using popular veteran channels, go viral. There are two issues here: firstly, someone is using our good offices, and secondly, this has a disciplinary aspect. The Army Headquarters, it is learned, has been monitoring groups on these platforms, and suddenly if one gets an official-type rebuttal it’s clear that this may be so because the characteristic military language comes through as obvious. There is also the grave fear that forces inimical to national security may penetrate these groups and extract advantage out of it. If we veterans are an extension of the soldiers, and our sons and daughters are in the service, then whatever affects us also affects them just the same. It thus becomes axiomatic that, senior officer-bashing and morale-affecting issues be acted upon with responsibility. This is because it affects discipline in the system, and whatever we may say, the officer to man relationship has become precarious with media showing scandals of the Army. The civilians get enough overloaded information, all the way from his mobile phone to his television set.

Psychological Warfare
The Indian Army has asked its jawans and officers to get off WhatsApp. Senior Army officials inform, “This is a psychological warfare operation meant to spring disenchantment in the Army. They say they cannot identify the source of the messages as WhatsApp’s servers are in the United States.” Meanwhile, an Army Commander General DS Hooda said, “The print, electronic, and social media are powerful tools that sway not only public opinion but also the sentiments of our officers and men. Let us not fall prey to them.”

(The author is a retired Brigadier. Views expressed are strictly personal)
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