Military Spouse Notified of Her Husband’s Death on Facebook

Social media connects families to the home-front

Facebook is a great tool for helping military families stay connected but requires sound judgment about what’s shared.

The hardest thing about being deployed is being separated from loved ones. In the last few years, social media has changed everything, allowing military families to stay in touch from halfway around the world. But with all that progress comes the need for restraint and responsibility.

Claire Shackleford’s recent post on OPSEC outlined the “Dos and Don’ts” for protecting critical information and helping to keep our troops safe at home and on the battlefield. But even information that might not be considered critical can still be harmful if not handled through the proper channels. Here’s a truly awful example.

The Worst News in the Worst Way

Staff Sgt. Christopher Brown was killed in Afghanistan on April 3 by an insurgent roadside bomb. Shortly after, his wife, Ariell Taylor-Brown, received a Facebook message from a woman in her husband’s platoon telling her to call immediately. She did and was told over the phone that her husband had been killed. Two hours later, official Army representatives arrived at her door, but by then it was too late.

This breach of information security circumvents the long-established method of professionally handling the very sensitive task of delivering news of the death of a loved one. Normally, soldiers are ordered not to release information of this nature until the next of kin can be properly notified. Soldiers who violate this rule could potentially face court-martial.

While the Army is investigating how this latest incident could have happened, senior officials claim that it is still a rare occurrence.

“There have been a few occasions where close friends of the soldier have not abided by the restrictions and have contacted family members of casualties either telephonically or through social media,” Col. Deborah Skillman, chief of the Casualty Mortuary Affairs Branch at Army Human Resources Command, told Army Times via email.

Harming Spouses

The main concern is the effect that this kind of incident could have on military spouses. Discussing the event, Ariell Taylor-Brown said, “When she first told me, I appreciated it because I wanted to know, but after it was all said and done, it was a horrible way. She didn’t even give me a chance. I could have been driving, anything. I could have harmed myself.”

The military death notification system is structured so that there are no false notices and so that loved ones can be told in a controlled, responsible way. If spouses were to start questioning the reliability of this system, it could create potential for scams such as the fake military death notifications that were circulating Facebook last year.

The Army plans to address the casualty notification policy in the new version of their Social Media Handbook.

Photo courtesy of birgerking