Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller has made it clear that Marines who engage in cyberbullying and other predatory behavior online can face criminal charges.
“Marines have got to understand that using social media to degrade, denigrate or be disrespectful to another Marine is not just not who we are, but it’s illegal,” Neller told lawmakers on Tuesday.
Posted later that day, ALMAR 008/17 lists the articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice that apply to the types of behavior found on the Marines United Facebook group and other websites.
The Marine Corps’ updated social media policy makes clear that Marines who threaten, harass or discriminate against people online can be charged with failure to obey an order or regulation, the message to the Corps says.“Existing orders and the UCMJ have long prohibited sexual or other harassment, fraternization, retaliation, reprisal, and hazing,” Neller said in the ALMAR. “Marines are reminded that their conduct, even off-duty or online, may violate Navy and Marine Corps orders and regulations.”
Even though the UCMJ does not include a specific provision on cyberbullying, Neller feels that military law provides commanders with the tools they need to address the issue, he said at Tuesday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hHearing.
“To me, we’ve stated what behavior in cyberspace is acceptable and not acceptable,” Neller said. “To me, that is the weight of Article 92: Disobedience of an order.”
Marines who make disrespectful or insubordinate comments about civilian or military leadership online can also be charged under Articles 88 through 91 of the UCMJ, the ALMAR says. Any Marines who mistreat other Marines of a lower rank online could be charged under Article 93.
But critics argue that the UCMJ’s strictest punishments under Article 120c do not apply to Marines who share or steal photos that were originally taken consensually.
“My understanding is … if you’re on a public-facing webpage and you post a picture, that in itself can be construed as consent,” Neller said on Tuesday. “If someone else takes that picture, there is no criminal action. I’m not saying I agree with that, but that is an interpretation."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., asked Neller if the UCMJ needs a “revenge pornography” provision to make such scenarios a criminal offense.
“I think that would be helpful in the accountability process,” Neller replied.