One of Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s quickest tools for sharing information briefly became a seedbed for frightening rumors Thursday night when someone wrote on a garrison Facebook page that a cargo jet had crashed into a military housing community.
The Air Force has a fleet of C-17 Globemaster III at McChord Air Field. A crash at the base would have shocked members of the South Sound military community, whose emotions are still raw from a helicopter training crash that killed four Army aviators at the base last month.
No aircraft crashed at the base this week. In fact, the Air Force was not even flying C-17s out of McChord that night.
Base spokesman J.C. Mathews squashed the rumor just after he saw it, but it had already caught the attention of two TV stations and spread to the Facebook pages used by other Army units at Lewis-McChord.
The exchange highlighted the risks of the Army’s embrace of social media as a means of communicating with soldiers and their families in a week when that medium proved more helpful than ever.
Lewis-McChord gained 3,000 Facebook followers during the winter storm, up from 6,000 at the start of the week. Many sought up-to-the-minute weather news and a forum to gripe.
“It quickly became obvious that Facebook was one of our most effective ways we had of getting information to anyone,” Mathews said.
Typically, infantry units use Facebook to show off photos of soldiers in the field and to steer families to services. Lewis-McChord often shares news about events and roadwork on its Facebook page.
The C-17 story wasn’t the only misfire on Facebook Thursday night. Some of the page’s users took to using profanity while discussing TV shows. Mathews spiked those comments, too.
He advised the page’s users to go through military channels next time they hear a distressing rumor.
“Please, please – NEVER post a rumor like that in a public venue,” he wrote today.
The source of the C-17 rumor wasn’t identified publicly or reprimanded. Mathews said the person appeared to have good intentions.
“It appeared to be someone who thought they were doing the right thing,” he said. But, “all it does is create unnecessary anxiety for families who are worried about their service members.”