By 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Now more than ever, information travels instantly. People have countless outlets to support causes, express opinions and flat out rant via social media...and that’s a good thing.
“Social media is a revolutionary communication tool,” said 2nd Lt. Amanda Porter, 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs officer. “It has the capacity to be a force multiplier of any message – good, bad, or ugly. In PA, we use it as a means to tell the story of our Airmen and the Air Force.”
But when military members and Department of Defense civilians engage on social media in their personal capacity, they should be mindful that even in the virtual world, you are still a member of the armed forces. Therefore you remain accountable for statements you make and the photos you take and post.
A lot of attention has been drawn to what military members post on social media in the wake of Staff Sgt. Cherish Byers, a 92nd Security Forces Squadron from Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., posing with her tongue in the mouth of the prisoner of war depicted on the iconic black and white POW/MIA emblem and posting it online. Just because you are the owner of your personal Facebook page, that doesn’t mean it’s private or hidden from the rest of the world.
“You have to consider how your post can be interpreted by the public,” said Porter. “What may seem like an inside joke to you and your friends could ultimately have a detrimental impact to your career. Any time you engage in social media, you’re representing the Air Force.”
According to the public affairs office in coordination with base legal officials, here is some of the best advice.
Watch what you say and post on Facebook, or your favorite social networking platform. When you post something on social media, you can’t “get it back.” In recent cases of social media faux pas, the photo in question was taken years ago but resurfaced. The statute of limitations on any post in question is five years. That means you can be held accountable for something 5 years ago.
Be cautious about crossing the line between funny and distasteful. If you have doubts about whether you should post something, err on the side of caution.
“Stay in your lane,” said Porter. “It’s common advice from public affairs, but Airmen have to remember, they may be the only contact a friend or a family member has ever had with someone in the military. So you have to differentiate between your opinion and that of the Air Force.”
All military members must be mindful that words or conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces, or words and conduct that are prejudicial to good order and discipline, are punishable under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
According to Little Rock AFB legal officials, this may include the use of disparaging or derogatory words directed towards the President and other civilian leadership. The more public the forum, the more likely it is the words or conduct will be considered service discrediting or to the prejudice of good order and discipline. In accordance with Article 88, UCMJ, it is unlawful for commissioned officers to use contemptuous language towards the President, Vice President, or Congress, by name or by clear reference.
Posting online does not grant you immunity from comments you didn’t verbally utter. According to base legal officials, posting comments on Facebook is the same as saying it. Posting offensive and/or disparaging photographs or links is the same as posting comments because they are attributable to the one who posted it. Keep in mind that on Facebook, the audience is potentially much larger. This means the effects of your posts may have more significant consequences.
“You are an Airman 24/7,” said Porter. “This rolls over to when you are at home scrolling through your Facebook feed or reading the Chive. So, the bottom line is simple – You are personally responsible for what you say and therefore post on social media and any other platform.”
If anyone has questions or concerns about Facebook posting and other social media rules, contact Public Affairs at (501) 987-3434 or seek advice from the base OPSEC Manager, Master Sgt. Jeremy Scott, at (501) 987-6585.