DoD GUIDANCE ON THE USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA DURING POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS AND ELECTIONS

military-votingBy LT Adam Petty, Legal Assistance Attorney

The Maryland primary elections are fast approaching and many of us concerned citizens want to debate the hot button topics, discuss the candidates’ qualifications, or even just offer our own political opinions. Without a doubt, the widespread use of social media sites has created free flowing avenues for political discourse. Often, Soldiers want to express their political opinions like everyone else; however, there are a number of things that they need to be mindful of when using social media sites to discuss politics. Active Duty service members should not engage in partisan political activities and must avoid the impression that the DoD is sponsoring, approving or endorsing the service member’s political activities. Political activity by federal civilian personnel is governed by The Hatch Act and federal regulations.

Here are some highlights of guidance offered by the DoD regarding political activity on social media:

Active-duty service members may generally express personal views on public issues or political candidates via social media or personal blogs, much like writing a letter to a newspaper.

If the social media page or posts identifies the person as an active-duty service member, then the page or post should clearly and prominently state that the views expressed do not represent the DoD, or their branch of service.

Active-duty members may become “friends” or “like” a Facebook page, or “follow” the Twitter account of a political party or partisan candidates.

However, active-duty military personnel MAY NOT –

  • engage in any partisan political activity, i.e. post any direct links to political parties or partisan candidates
  • post or comment on pages or send “tweets” to political parties or partisan candidates
  • engage in activities that suggest others “like,” “friend,” or “follow” the political party, partisan political candidate, group or cause, or forward an invitation or solicitation from those political causes

Do not let the push of a button or the click of a mouse lead to your downfall. Stop, think, and use caution at election time before you comment on social media sites! Note that Active Duty service members may also be subject to restrictions in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Joint Ethics Regulation, and other service-specific rules which may address the use of government communication systems and resources. For more information see “2012 DoD Public Affairs Guidance for Political Campaigns and Elections” at www.dod.mil/dodgc/defense_ethics/resource_library/dodpa_political_activity_guidance.pdf

Should you have any additional questions, you may call the Legal Assistance Division at (301) 677-9504/9536 and make an appointment to meet with an attorney.

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