Center for Strategic Communication

A social media kiosk in Fort Riley, Kansas. Photo: U.S. Army

Captain Obvious, report for duty. The Air Force wants you to know that “eye-catching” pictures on Facebook are good and that comment trolls are bad — so don’t feed them.

Those are some of the more-basic-than-basic suggestions in a 41-page guide to effective social media, put out by the Air Force Public Affairs Agency, which was originally released in March by the Air Force Public Affairs Agency, and was made available for public download yesterday by the watchdog site Public Intelligence.

But don’t laugh too hard at the n00bness. Given some of the military’s social media faceplants, such an elementary how-to may be just the thing troops need.

The guide goes over some best practices for the most common platforms and encourages their commandos to include pizazz in their posts and maintain an eye for design. A section titled “How to interact on Facebook” instructs airmen to “Be conversational and informal. Most of all, be fun,” but also to “Have a legal contact on stand-by as situations arise.” The “How to interact on Twitter” section includes a run-down of “The Anatomy of a Tweet” and the gems of wisdom instructing airmen to “Become familiar with Twitter language. Not only will you look like a pro, you’ll also communicate better,” but “Don’t drop names just because you can. Have a reason for all of your mentions. Similarly, do not use hashtags just to garner more attention. Make sure they are relevant, and do not use too many hashtags per tweet.”

One hilariously valid warning is on the globally ill-advised practice of linking feeds:

With such cautionary instructions, it’s no wonder that one of the FAQs begins “I’m afraid to use social media.”

Perhaps the best part of the guide though is the Glossary, which defines confusing terms such as: Avatar, Blogosphere, Browser (hey, it’s OK, most civilians don’t know what this is either), Comments, and that ever-perplexing thing called Democracy. (It’s “a system of government controlled by the whole population or by a majority of the population,” apparently.) Of course, no social media guide would be complete without attempting to explain the most frustrating of internet figures, the Troll.

According to the Air Force, a troll is “A hurtful, but possibly valuable, person who, for whatever reason, is both obsessed by and constantly annoyed with, and deeply offended by everything you write on your site. One may not be able to stop the commenting of trolls on your site. You can’t ban them from commenting on other sites and pointing back to the page, and they can’t be banned from posting things on their own page that point back to your site.”

Sounds like they’ve had some experience with these, and we think it’s a pretty good definition.

The guide intensely focuses on the importance of maintaining OPSEC (Operations Security), which is mentioned 22 times throughout. Perhaps the concept of overkill went out the window when the officials realized that not only is a soldier tweeting pictures of his friends in their camo jock straps bad PR, it could have geolocation metadata associated with it, revealing a unit’s exact location to the Taliban member of moderate technological know-how. One case study from the guide cites an example from 2010 where members of “a criminal network” were able to glean the locations of Air Force officials’ homes using geolocation metadata from publicly available photos and Google Maps, information which was then used in a blackmail plot. Too bad the troops didn’t have a handy guide to tell them exactly how dumb they were acting.