Need for Simple web, online Social network use Policy for Defense Forces

Should Defense and Paramilitary Forces personnel use Social networks or not?

We must be asking this question after the latest incidents of ‘on duty personnel’ posting service conditions related videos on Facebook.

But before that lets us see how divided is the house. Some among us are seeing the surfacing of these videos as a natural reaction of the on duty personnel to the bad working conditions. A few among us see the videos as acts of insubordination. A behavior which at any cost must not be tolerated.

In such a divided house, lets go at the root of this all: Should Defense and Paramilitary Forces personnel use Social networks or not?

There’s a reason why social networks are at the root of this issue.

Before the advent of social networks, and 24 hour TV news channels; defense and paramilitary forces were cautious of what they share even with their families. The basic idea behind this was what’s syndicated communication and what’s not. There was hardly any talk of work conditions in their written or verbal communications to their homes. The fine line between syndicated and non-syndicated matter was unknown, hence no one dared to cross it. That apart, throughout their Service, they found themselves bonded by the discipline and hierarchy of the Forces. It’s important here to understand that this enviably respect for discipline, order and hierarchy is the primary motivation behind them joining the Forces.

With the advent of 24 hour news Channels (other channels as well), and more recently the access to web and online social networks; this enviably respect to discipline, order and hierarchy in Forces started to erode (“washed down” or decrease). The access to broader information and the use of Defense and paramilitary forces for political purposes by politicians and TV channels for viewership have resulted in this erosion. Today, on duty personnel are sharing and liking all sorts of material on online social networks such as WhatsApp, Facebook. This communication at times is highly political, communal and objectionable.

The material being shared by Forces personnel becomes objectionable only when it portrays Forces or the Government in bad light. Should the Forces or the Government in power tolerate this, is for them to decide. As the malice lies in the habit. If a personnel is in a habit of using online social networks to share and like political and other information; then sometimes he will share something which is not politically correct in the Establishment’s view. Hence, the solution to this lies in the answer to this question: To what extent the establishment wants its Forces become political?

The more political our Forces will become, the more loop holes in Forces Discipline, hierarchy and order will become visible.

So what’s the way out?

Frankly speaking, it’s not possible for every disgruntled Army personnel to take its grievance to the Army General. The suggestion is as ineffective as some mechanism where every citizen would take its grievance to the Prime Minister of India. Such attempts to micromanage things and jump hierarchy in grievance redress system makes for a great TV debate, but it’s impossible to apply.

There’re two ways out. Either take positive notice of such videos (which the Government or Forces consider as insubordination); or impose a blanket ban on any public use of social network content by Defense personnel. I think the second method is more suitable here. As this way there will be more order in the Forces.

The option of complete ban may appear retrograde step to some, particularly in a democratic country. But Forces are not designed to be democratic. Bringing democratic aspect to the forces will mean challenge to authority, order and discipline. The attributes which are a must for any defense Force.

To conclude, it’s time for the Government seriously think about having or strictly implementing web and social network use policy for Defense and Paramilitary Forces personnel? … Even simple rules with respect to sharing and liking social media or web content can prove effective. Such rules will be flouted sometimes; but the fear of flouting a service rule will be there. This fear will help the Government protect the proliferation of defense related sensitive information as well.