Think before you share online

Guidance for defence personnel on the use of social media


Social networking sites are great for keeping in touch with family and friends, and letting the world know what you’re up to. The ‘Online engagement guidelines’ make it clear that we encourage the safe and responsible use of social networking sites.

This page contains guidance on how to stay safe and to think about what you post online. Remember, that there may be those who use such sites for unsavoury reasons.

Be extra careful if you have identified yourself as being a member of the military or an MOD civilian.

There is a short guide to appropriate social media behaviour for defence personnel.

You can also download the Personal security online (PDF, 1.55MB, 11 pages) file which contains some more detailed guidance.

Security and privacy settings

Whenever you join a social network, you should always look at the privacy and security settings. Do this frequently as settings are subject to change.

Each social network deals with privacy and security in different ways, and you shouldn’t share information on their service until you know where that could end up.

Pictures and videos

Pictures are powerful and often revealing assets that can also pose a risk to personal and operational security if placed in the wrong hands.

Whether in a professional or personal capacity, you should always consider what information you are revealing through imagery you publish online.

Always consider how the images and videos you publish might be interpreted, and what level of information they are displaying. Remember, unless you have appropriate privacy settings activated, there is a strong chance your images can be viewed by the wider public. Consider whether you wish to identify yourself, your colleagues, family members or your location, and how you are representing your profession.

Army YouTube video

Location services and geotagging

Various social media services can use information about your location, either from a mobile device, or from your computer, and attach it to information you share on their site. Some social media is based solely around this (for example, Foursquare, where you ‘check in’ to places you visit).

Ask yourself what information are you giving away when you check into many locations over a long period of time? Is it possible that people could use your location to work out your routine, or where you live?

Royal Navy YouTube video

Friends and family

It’s not just you who needs to think about your personal security online. Your friends and family will often know about your deployment, travel arrangements, and other information that should not be public.

Make sure that anything shared online is safe, and that you, your friends and family aren’t giving away more than they mean to.

Royal Air Force YouTube video

Commenting and debating

Be careful about giving away too much information as some blogs, news websites and forums are easier to search than sites such as Facebook and keep their information easily accessible for longer than sites such as Twitter.

Never share anything which could breach operational security in a comment section or forum, and be careful not to share personal information such as where you live, names of your family members, or information about anyone else unless you’ve received their permission in advance.

Scams, fraud, hoaxes, phishing and blackmail

Given the increasing popularity of social networking sites and the general improvement in email filters, scammers are now using these sites more and more in an attempt to harvest private information and commit varying levels of identity fraud.

Phishing, scams, frauds and hoaxes are a major source of cybercrime affecting many internet users. Most users have a basic awareness of computer viruses and a general notion of what constitutes identity theft, but a number of people don’t realise the real threat that phishing, frauds and scams pose.

Include Civilian YouTube Video

General tips

  • use strong and unique passwords, with a different one for each site
  • always check you’re in the actual main site before entering any login information
  • be wary of suspicious links, requests for passwords and unusual comments/messages/updates from friends/followers; scrutinise all requests carefully
  • limit what information you share on your profile/account such as birth dates, phone numbers and use of geo-locating services (such as Facebook Places or Foursquare); use privacy settings to your advantage
  • keep your computer software and browser up-to-date and virus-free
  • select third-party applications with care
  • if it seems too good to be true, it usually is, so, don’t fall for it!
Published 21 October 2013