Are Military KIA Notifications too Slow for the Facebook Age?

The speed of social information has forced many groups to compromise on old standards of formality and dignity when sharing important information.

One of the most profound examples is a debate taking place now on SpouseBUZZ, a website for military family members, about whether the traditional notification process for when a soldier is killed in action is too slow for the social media age.

The debate was sparked by two recent cases when Army wives learned their husbands were killed through text messages and Facebook. Comments on the stories suggest there have been numerous similar incidents that were less publicized.

Two clear themes emerge in posts and comments about the incidents. First, some Facebook-first notifications are likely inevitable in the digital age. Second, a majority of spouses don't want to give up the fight for a dignified and personal notification from a casualty officer knocking on the door.

According to a SpouseBuzz poll, about 42 percent of respondents thought soldiers and spouses could be trusted to keep information about a fatality to themselves -- even in the Internet age -- if protocols were stressed sufficiently, and about 37 percent thought Facebook leaks were unfortunate but inevitable. About 22 percent of respondents thought the military should re-examine notification procedures.

The Army blamed spouses' loose lips for one early notification and is contemplating a court martial and prison time for a soldier who notified the other slain soldiers' wife, according to SpouseBUZZ.

Formal, in-person notifications may be too slow for the age of social media and cellphones even if everyone keeps their mouths shut, SpouseBUZZ Managing Editor Amy Bushatz pointed out in one post.

"People are smart," she said, "too smart to not wonder why their soldier didn't call at his 'normal' time, and too smart to not put two and two together when two other friends' soldiers did the same thing. The situation screams 'communications blackout' -- then the rumor mill goes into action and people end up getting hurt."

SpouseBUZZ editor Jacey Eckhart was among those advocating for a faster notification system but also resigned to the fact that no new system could be a panacea.

"Until we develop some kind of Star Trek transporter technology, the urgency and necessity of death will travel so much faster than any dark sedan," she wrote. "I don't know what to do about that. I know I don't want to ever be the messenger. I don't know anyone who would crave that role. I just know that the social support system created by social media is a double-edged sword that delivers empathy and death in one blow."