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Keeping social networks free-speech friendly

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- So, you think Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are just for fun and games? Think again.

Since Department of Defense officials authorized military personnel to use these sites, social networking has become serious business. With every new freedom comes new boundaries and more opportunities to get into trouble, and the law is increasingly being called on to deal with interactions in these new arenas.

First, every DOD user must recognize that the rules for Internet use haven't changed. All government employees should know the distinction between official use, limited personal use and unauthorized use of these Internet-based capabilities. Airmen are required to abide by Directive-Type Memorandum 09-026 Responsible Effective Use of Internet-Based Capabilities and Air Force Guidance Memorandum to Air Force Instruction 33-129 Web Management and Internet Use. Failure to follow these directives could result in administrative or punitive action against military and civilian members.

Second, Air Force officials view social media positively and respects the right of Airmen to use it as a medium of self-expression. However, the First Amendment is not a blanket right for military members to do and say what they want at all times, especially in a global forum like the Internet. The Supreme Court has long recognized that military members' First Amendment rights are limited because there is a substantial and important need to preserve good order and discipline and to protect operational security.

Airmen must have supervisor approval before using these sites for personal use during the duty day and it cannot interfere with their military duties, jeopardize the network or reflect negatively on the Air Force.

Airmen must be cautious of what they say on these sites and think before clicking "post." Ask questions like, will this get me in trouble? Will this affect the mission in a negative light? Do I want my supervisor reading this? Could someone use this information to hurt the Air Force?

Airmen also need to be wary of rules concerning unprofessional relationships and fraternization. Socializing with subordinates and friending them on social network sites may seem harmless, but it can create a perception of favoritism, influence or an unprofessional relationship.

Remember, social networking sites on the World Wide Web are just that, "social" and "worldwide." With knowledge of the rules and practicing proper operational security and professionalism, Airmen still can express themselves and stay out of trouble.

( 2nd Lt. Caroline Ojerio and Cindy Middleton contributed to this article)