In this modern era of digital communications, every military branch has been working tirelessly to find ways to keep up with the ever-changing trends brought about by social media. From barring fitness trackers and apps that share service member’s locations, to highly publicized embarrassments like the “Marines United” group sharing nude photos of female service members without their knowledge, social media continues to create headaches for senior leadership throughout America’s defense apparatus. Now, with the 2020 election season about to kick off, the Marine Corps has issued a new guidance meant to eliminate some of the ambiguity in social media protocol for active duty Marines.
In a new MARADMIN released this week, the Marine Corps laid out acceptable behaviors for politically minded Marines leading up to the election, spelling out some particulars that are sure to ruffle a few feathers.
While the Marine Corps expressly states that Marines are authorized to share their political views on social media, there are a number of limitations regarding how they’re allowed to go about it. Posts on social media expressing support for a candidate are supposed to “clearly and prominently state” that the views expressed are not representative of the service or unit the Marine belongs. As importantly, Marines are not permitted to post links to political parties, candidates, or their own respective social media pages whatsoever.
“Because an active duty member may not engage in partisan political activity, the active duty member may not post or make direct links to a political party, partisan political candidate, campaign, group, or cause; such activity is akin to distributing literature on behalf of those entities, which is prohibited by reference (a). Such activity is akin to distributing literature on behalf of those entities, which is prohibited.”
The order goes on to say that Marines are authorized to “like” or “follow” any candidate they prefer, but they are not permitted to encourage others do so directly.
This includes suggesting that others “like,” “friend,” or “follow” the political entity; it also includes forwarding by email an invitation or solicitation from these entities to others.
This may not directly affect many Marines, who prefer to keep their politics to themselves or don’t actively participate in the political debate online, but others will likely find these new guidelines stifling. There’s a fine line between sharing your political views online and encouraging others to follow a specific candidate. This means that this new guidance, meant to clarify the rules, could theoretically lead to commands enforcing these very rules to varying degrees. In the complex world of social media, commanders may soon be faced with making judgement calls regarding what is and isn’t behavior that falls within the banned practices.
The MARADMIN also bars some real-life activities, like placing political signs on military housing or “large” signs on personal vehicles. Bumper stickers, the document does point out, are still permitted.
It’s worth noting that there have always been restrictions on how active duty service members are allowed to participate in the nation’s political discussion. As many veterans have found after service, tying a uniform to a political message can often help boost that particular message’s signal among Americans with an affinity for the armed forces. As Gene Hackman’s Capt. Frank Ramsey in the fictional “Crimson Tide” once so eloquently put it: “We’re here to preserve democracy, not to practice it.”