Marines will soon be required to sign a formal policy statement confirming that they have read and understood the new social media guidance issued by Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller.
The pledge is designed in part to aid the Marine Corps in prosecuting future misconduct on the social media front, according to Brig. Gen. James F. Glynn, the director of Marine Corps communications.
If a Marine demonstrates conduct on social media that is contrary to “good order and discipline,” the signed pledge will lower the “burden of proof,” for the Marine Corps to show that a Marine has violated clear guidance from the Commandant -- and the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.
“It opens up a range of options within the UCMJ,” Glynn said.
The announcement comes as the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Marine Corps struggle to piece together criminal investigations related to the Marines United portal, where hundreds of Marines are believed to have posted and viewed photos of female Marines and other women without their consent.
The NCIS investigation has identified at least 1,200 screen names related to the site, Marine officials said.
NCIS is still in the process of verifying the screen names, and those names alone “do not imply criminal intent,” said Special Agent Curtis Evans, the director of the NCIS task force assigned to the investigation.
The investigation is heavily reliant on outside tips, which have reached into the hundreds, and a series of screenshots provided by Thomas Brennan, the Marine veteran who broke the story in a
recent report in Reveal, a publication run by the Center for Investigative Reporting.
Evidence in the case has been difficult to compile, as online traffic and posts are not permanent and in many cases the Facebook groups are closed and private, meaning investigators don’t always have access to the material.
“In the digital world we are always trying to catch up,” Evans said.
Many questions remain unanswered and investigators declined to comment on several issues, including how many of the 1,200 screen names have resulted in interviews with real people. It's also unclear how many other websites in addition to Marines United have been identified as potentially involved in the misconduct.
Currently, criminal investigators are focused on the sharing of explicit photos from upwards of 20 victims -- a number investigators expect to increase. Investigators are trying to determine whether the circumstances surrounding the posting of those photos meet a “criminal statute,” according to Evans.
“Information that does not meet a criminal threshold will still be handed to the Marine Corps,” Evans said.
Those actions that are deemed “prejudicial to good order and conduct of the organization"” may receive administrative action from the Marine Corps, Glynn said.