Earlier today, a disgruntled member of an Alabama Army National Guard unit forwarded the e-mail below from a first sergeant outlining the do’s and don’t of social media with the subject line, “Troops 1st Amendment Rights being denied.”
The email cautions troops to steer clear of posts about “gun control, the Democrats, the President, Congress, or personal opinions about STATE or FEDERAL GOVERNMENT matters.”
Racism and sexism somehow don’t get a mention, but the timing is curious. This e-mail from January surfaced as the Marine Corps decided to get all expeditionary on Marines’ “salty” Facebook posts. Female Marines were being sexually harassed online, and the Corps decided to take a stand.
Last month, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos and Principal Deputy Inspector General Lynn Halbrooks to express her disgust with posts implying that female Marines were sleeping with superiors to get promoted and photo memes joking about domestic violence and telling women to “get back in the kitchen.” Speier demanded that Amos respond with a plan of action by May 31.
Facebook in the meantime has begun cracking down on pages promoting misogyny and violence against women, and several Marine humor pages were among those purged.
Will the Army try to put the heat on beloved military-focused but politically incorrect Facebook pages and the folks who post there? Can they do so legally?
Our Alabama first sergeant asserts, “This is not an infringement on anyone’s right to free speech or personal freedoms. We must abide by a higher standard, while serving in the Army National Guard and the United States Army.”
UPDATE: From the Army Social Media Handbook 2013: “Soldiers using social media must abide by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) at all times. Commenting, posting or linking to material that violates the UCMJ or basic rules of Soldier conduct is prohibited. Social media provides the opportunity for Soldiers to speak freely about their activities and interests. However, Soldiers are subject to UCMJ even when off duty, so talking negatively about supervisors or releasing sensitive information is punishable under the UCMJ. It is important that all Soldiers know that once they log on to a social media platform, they still represent the Army.”
UPDATE 2: The Alabama Guard released the following statement:
“The letter in question was written in the context of prior social media briefings and conversations in the unit, some of which were routine and some of which were initiated because of some violations in policy and the use of poor judgment in social media usage. Standing alone, the letter seems to restrict Soldiers more than Army policy does. However, it was written in the context of briefings and discussion about Soldiers’ conduct in uniform as representatives of the military.
“It would be inappropriate for a Soldier in uniform to endorse certain political candidates or agendas in a public forum, as this could be construed as official endorsement of that candidate or agenda. It is appropriate, however, for individual Soldiers, while on their own time and in civilian attire, to discuss political situations and campaign for their chosen political candidates and/or positions.
“It was with this previously discussed understanding that the letter was written. The letter was also to reinforce the previously given encouragement to be careful what one posts from a personal standpoint in order to protect a Soldier and his or her reputation. Alabama National Guard leaders constantly work to develop their subordinates, personally and professionally. In this context, it was appropriate for the first sergeant to remind his troops to be careful and cautious with what they put in a public forum in order to protect themselves and their reputations as individuals and Soldiers. We will continue to educate all of our personnel concerning the proper use of social media, while striving to convey and instill a sense of free expression within prescribed policy.
From: [REDACTED] 1SG USARMY NG ALARNG (US)
Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2013 4:44 PM
To: Subject: SOCIAL NETWORKING (UNCLASSIFIED)
[UNIT REDACTED] conducted a social network brief during the JAN IDT. The ideas, do’s and don’t’s, what can and cannot be posted, were explained in a what I believe was a very elementary level. When asked if anyone had any questions, comments or complaints, no one raised their hands. I made the assumption that there was a clear and concise understanding concerning everyone’s actions and responsibilities. Apparently I made a miscalculation in my assumption. Here it is again, for the last time.
Update personal status, ie “at the mall”
Comment on friends status, ie “happy birthday”
Comment or add posts concerning gun control, the Democrats, the President, Congress, or personal opinions about STATE or FEDERAL GOVERNMENT matters.
What you do on face book, twitter, or anything else that is available to the public is a direct reflection on this unit and you as a soldier. If you have a question about a post, give me a call and I will let you know if it violates anything. This also includes “likes” post on other friends pages. I do not care or want to hear about someone from another unit outside the [UNIT REDACTED]. My concern is with members of [UNIT REDACTED] and [UNIT REDACTED].
By all means have fun with the networking, but stay away from volatile subjects. DON’T BE THAT GUY.
This is not an infringement on anyone’s right to free speech or personal freedoms. We must abide by a higher standard, while serving in the Army National Guard and the United States Army.
1SG [NAME REDACTED]
[PHONE NOS. REDACTED]