Russian army selfie ban: Ministry of defence might ban access to social media for soldiers

The ministry believes shared photographs, video and other details have the potential to reveal military details.

Russian army soldiers patrol the ancient Syrian city of PalmyraVasily Maximov/ AFP

Starting January 2018, Russian soldiers and other military personnel might not be allowed to post on social media.

According to a BBC report, the Russian Ministry of Defence reportedly drafted a new law which says that the ban would be imposed as photographs, video and other details that can be shared online have the potential to reveal military details and this can be used by the enemy. Automatic geolocation, for example, can also show where a unit is deployed, the report adds.

This ban covers contract soldiers as well as the ones that are sent overseas, but not conscripts, according to the report.

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Social media posts have revealed the location of forces deployed in regions of Ukraine and even Syria the report adds.

In 2015, Vice was able to track down the involvement of Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine through a series of selfies that soldiers posted. This came at a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin denied that there was any Russian interference in the region. Vice was able to track the movements of one soldier from Eastern Ukraine to Siberia, proving that there was indeed Russian interference.

In 2014, the BBC reported on a Tweet by a Russian soldier which contained several images of troops delivering Grad rockets to pro-Russia rebels.

There have been several such incidents where Russia's official stance was found to be inaccurate through social media posts made by soldiers in the field, says the BBC report. Similar stories have been reported around the Isis conflict in Syria.

Russia has already placed a ban on security agencies the FSB and FSO from posting things about their work or even themselves online. Selfies can be quite revealing, notes the report and almost all social media outlets are known to encourage people to post images of themselves. Considering how detailed some of these posts can be with geo-tagging accurate down to a few metres, it is possible to send out a tweet without first checking if the location services are on or off, says the report.

Many social media networks also have highly specific search functionalities that can be used to identify users and their posts with ease, according to the report. That means a soldier making a tweet, can provide image, location, as well as a way for people to search for them with ease. Even if location from the social media account is turned off, the report notes that it is possible to pull location data from the image itself as modern smartphones tend to add this information to the image.

Even if all this fails, there is always the chance of someone recognising the background scenery, explains the report.

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