Military uses social media to share info on Fort Hood shootings

Facebook and Twitter quickly became a way to communicate during and after the attack

The Army’s public affairs staff at Fort Hood used Facebook today to publish a note saying the media relations office is inundated with requests and is answering queries as quickly as possible.

The post, which appeared on the Army’s official Facebook page, is just one way social media is being used in the wake of the mass shooting that left 13 people dead and at least 30 others wounded, according to the Army.

A Facebook user created a page called “Prayers for Fort Hood” on Nov. 5 and nearly 19,000 people had signed up as members of it -- meaning they can post and read comments and receive updates when it gets new content -- as of noon today. Many of the posts on the Facebook page are from military members and their families stationed across the United States and overseas.

A post from Amanda Fleck, for example, said, “We are stationed at Fort Benning and my husband is in Iraq right now and I can’t even imagine him coming to from war to just be shot and killed by one of his own brothers in arms. My deepest prayers are with the families at Fort Hood.”

Thousands also used Twitter to share information and feeling about the event. A Twitter user named MyArmyLife posted, “Just home from being 'locked down' on Fort Hood. So saddened by the events of today. Please keep Fort Hood Family in your prayers tonight!”

Hundreds of other people posted phone numbers for a hot line set up for relatives of Fort Hood personnel.

Others used Twitter to let their followers know they were safe. A post by SDAJumpmaster was typical of that type of message, “I was off Post here at Fort Hood when it happened. I am OK and uninvolved.”

Some shared firsthand information from the attack. RicoRossi wrote: “a soldier i treated here said he was waiting in line @ SRP when another soldier stood up and started shooting. i dont want 2 b 2 graphic so ill stop there, he was there.... it was like something out of a movie he said im paraphrasing of course.”

It is not surprising that so many people turned to social media first to communicate about the shootings, said Scott Testa, a Cabrini College business professor with expertise in social media.

“You have a lot of people in the military that were raised on texting and now social media,” Testa said. “They’re not watching the network news; they’re getting all their news electronically.”

Testa said he saw social media help clarify conflicting reports in the hours after the shootings. Individuals on the base were able to confirm or deny reports of lockdowns and other incidents via Twitter, he said.

While social media can help clear up conflicting reports, it also has the power to perpetuate false information, he said.

“That’s why the government has to put out info via these channels,” he said. “You can’t let it fester if the information is wrong; you have to respond to that.”

review of the benefits and risks of using social media within the Defense Department is expected to conclude soon, according to a DOD official.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.


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