National Security and Social Media Officers

Excerpts of my keynote speech at the OSIS Digital Activism workshop hosted by Aalto University on 27 November 2014.


Viewing fully professional armed forces in the world, a discussion regarding public support and acceptance is discernible. Professional armed forces easily become detached from the society, with soldiers often serving lifetime living in garrisons, behind barb-wire fences in highly restricted, well-guarded areas.

Conscription guarantees a certain democratic and popular support. Involving the general population — well the male population that is — in defence through the system of conscription provides an understanding of our defence and at least a basic level of transparency.

However, the basic issue, being the intrinsically non-transparent nature of defence, restricted by secrecy due to state interests — existential in their nature — is evident both in fully professional and conscription systems.


In professional armed forces the need to use social media is multifaceted, and some activities are taken in order to support armed combat. A good example of this is the Israeli Defense Force.

The IDF uses social media campaigns to support its combat activities in Gaza and the Palestinian territories, integrating them with a grand political narrative of the justification of war and just war.

Speaking in military terms and concepts; information warfare, information operations and psychological operations are predominant in such an approach.

Looking, for example, at the United States’ uniformed services, often deployed overseas for long tours the need for social media is evident in another sense. The troops — individual soldiers — need to be able to interact with their families and friends at home. The organization needs to be aware of this and monitor the same channels and interact with their troops and their networks to boost morale and public support for operations.

Taking a look at nations not at war, a more businesslike pattern of social media use appears. Recruitment is one of the key reasons for many professional armed forces’ social media posture and precense. Since we don’t live in the Soviet Union the methods of engagement are interactive and revovle around brand management. It’s about tearing down the wall between the armed forces and the rest of the society in a way that provides understanding of the missions of the armed services and instill patriotic feelings of respect, pride, sense of duty, trust and security.


The Finnish Defence Forces has an approach based on its mission. We conscript about 25,000 men annually and assign them tasks. Our social media presence as an organization revolves around a very important epiphany regarding the Finnish Defence Forces and the relevant social media content –– that control is well outside the powers and scope of our reach.

Our precense in social media channels provide us with information on the current and relevant discussion on national defense and our activities.

By interacting and engaging the audiences we can convey relevant messages and affect the content and the direction of the debate.

That said, I will assure you that we also have and develop capabilities for information warfare, psychological warfare and cyber warfare. Anything else would be a gross dereliction of our duties.

When it comes to public servants speaking out publicly,soldiers in particular, many misconceptions regarding the freedom of speech and other basic rights of these people remain. Up until 1999 the freedom of speech of soldiers was restricted. The restriction was a prohibition to share opinions on partisan (party) political matters in events organized by a partisan political actor unless expressly permitted to do so. The offense was labeled as ”unauthorized political activity.”


In practise, while limited to events of partisan political nature, this restriction meant that officers would shun all matters even slightly ”political” and refrain from expressing any opinions in public that could be interpreted as political or more in favor of one party’s views over another.

Today, my fellow soldiers and I have freedom of speech. The legislative (you, the people, that is) have seen it fit to keep limits on my freedom of association, that being my right to join a party or contribute to partisan political activies. So be it. The limits of my freedom of speech are defined by my profession and in the laws and statutes regarding public officers (civil servants).

I will share a revelation with you: In contrast to most of you, I don’t work.

I serve.

When speaking about subject matter issues I’m obliged to be objective, unbiased, speak with relevant authority and expertise and act with loyalty and respect towards my agency.

The key issue to identify in social media interaction is the difficulty for the audience to discern between the official role of a public officer representing his agency and the private role as a citizen. Subjects are also problematic for the audience; a public officer speaking on subject matters has a limited professional freedom of speech, but when discussing non-professional subjects there aren’t any special restrictions that wouldn’t apply to other professionals.

Personally, I want to believe that the increasing positive social media presence of military professionals in private roles comes from the realization that it is unthinkable that the Defence Forces, charged with protecting the basic democratic freedoms and rights of the people, should entertain a culture that ignores or supresses these freedoms and rights.

A question to ask yourself is: How can you protect and respect freedom of speech without enjoying and using it yourself?



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