I do not believe one can over state the need to be plugged in to what is going on around you. We need to have a constant situational awareness so that in the event something happens, we can interact with it, not just react to it. As I was busy crunching numbers today, I saw a pop up on Twitter that an AF C-17 crashed in Texas. It all started with a CNN report and a post on Twitter:
- BULLETIN — PLANE CRASHES IN TEXAS.
Then followed up by:
- URGENT — An Air Force C-17 plane has crashed near Olney, Texas, a spokesman for Sheppard Air Force Base tells CNN.
CNN had on their web site the basic facts of a C-17 and that one had crashed in Texas. Almost as fast, the social media world starts to question validity:
- An FAA official tells BNO News there has been no plane crash in Texas; calls CNN report “wrong”. BNO News continuing to work on confirmation.
So far no one could actually confirm anything had crashed, Reports also start to surface that it may have been a commercial jet. But soon, these Tweets start to surface:
- Times Record Newspaper: All American Eagle commuter flights into and out of Wichita Falls are accounted for.
- Times Record News: Hospital official says they were notified of a downed commercial plane; BNO unable to confirm. CNN reports a C-17 crash.
Within 30 minutes of the CNN report, Twitter posts start to debunk CNN, who was still maintaining the story on their web site:
- The Texas Department of Public Safety tells BNO News they are not aware of any plane crash, despite CNN reports.
But then, a CNN producer on Twitter also started to question the story and it was starting to become clear nothing had happened. The @AFPAA official Twitter account released a statement:
- @AFPAA We have no reports of a US Air Force airplane down in TX. Pls spread the word. not US Air Force. We’re looking into it.
So what did happen? It was simple enough but highlights how well-connected people are now:
- @AFPAAconcerned citizen saw a C-17 doing low-levels and called 911. Confirmed the C-17 went back to Altus safe/sound
All of this unfolded in the span of about an hour. It was interesting to see it work in real time – hence why it is really now media. In fact, AF Public Affairs people plugged into Twitter is what helped squelch the rumor quickly. It is evident by this example that Pas need to be plugged in to social media venues almost on a 24/7 schedule. This particular example happened during a normal work day, what if it had been after hours? The rumor would eventually be proved false, but may have taken longer.
Clearly PA professionals need to be able to respond to things like this quickly, but if access is blocked at their offices, how can they be effective communicators for the Air Force?
As social media grows, so to must be how PA plugs into it. Particularly in a deployed environment where the enemy can and does use SM to further their propaganda efforts. By practicing SM techniques in the home station arena, PAs can be better suited to fight counter-propaganda in the deployed environment.