Letter: Social Media Intel During an Emergency

HJL,

I am a long time reader and understand JWR’s recommendation against the use of social media. The recent snow storm that has crippled the roads in major southern cities has proven a positive of social media that I hadn’t fully realized. With a “friends” list of over 1,000 (who are mostly just acquaintances) I was able gain valuable intelligence down to the neighborhood level. Friends reported on road closures, traffic jams, people in need of help and their location, people providing help, and businesses that were open and taking in those that were stranded. This sharing of information undoubtedly saved lives and was shared by the people. No government agency or news media was able to provide this same level of understanding as to what was really happening on the ground. We have heard the stories of the flash mobs and other lawless behavior that has used social media as a means of command and control, the most famous being its use during the “Arab Spring.” Why can’t the good guys use this as a resource as well? With due diligence paid to JWR’s concerns, I recommend having an account that shares the minimum necessary of your personal information that is ONLY used during an emergency to access the many eyes and ears you are acquainted with. That level of detail of first hand accounts maybe invaluable one day. Please read all of JWR’s warnings on social media. – P.N.

HJL Replies: I’m afraid I’m going to have to agree with JWR on this issue. In this specific case, you were able to obtain intel, but the reality is that you were only able to obtain that intel because so many others are oblivious to the concept of OPSEC. There are always ways of obtaining that level of intel without actually compromising OPSEC. Ham radio operators, for example, have long maintained such local networks, usually in the form of radio clubs. There are many areas that still actively use FRS, MURS, and CB for local communications. Intel is available without compromising OPSEC, and just the act of owning an account compromises OPSEC to a certain degree.

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