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As the Pentagon warns of the security risks posed by social networking sites, newly released government documents show the military also uses these Internet tools to monitor and react to coverage of high-profile events.
The Air Force tracked the instant messaging service Twitter, video carrier YouTube and various blogs to assess the huge public backlash to the Air Force One flyover of the Statue of Liberty this spring, according to the documents.
The Combat Information Cell's first assessment of the event said "Web site blog comments 'furious' at best." Local reporting of the flyover was "very critical, highlighting scare factor," it added.
A Twitter search revealed a rate of one "tweet" per minute about a pair of F-16s chasing a commercial airliner. A tweet is a text message of up to 140 characters delivered to the author's subscribers, who are known as followers.
Media coverage over the next 24 hours "will focus on local hysteria and lack of public notification," the cell predicted. "Blogs will continue to be overwhelmingly negative."
"Damage control requires timely counter-information," but the opportunity for that had passed, the assessment said. The cell recommended acknowledging the mistake and ensuring it didn't happen again.
1st Air Force spokesman Al Eakle explained that the command had no role in planning or coordinating the Air Force One flight. But the units tracked social networks and blog traffic "to obtain what lessons we might learn so as not to repeat them in the future." The assessments were sent to the command's leadership so they'd know how the public was reacting, he added.