With shares and likes on cellphones, the rise of social media has made it easier for Americans to publicly express political opinions and participate in political campaigns.
But the ease of social media politicking has created a gray area for members of the military who must navigate federal laws and military regulations that allow them a limited ability to participate in the political discourse while avoiding an actual or perceived official involvement by the Department of Defense.
To help navigate this issue, the Marine Corps has released new guidance clarifying what Marines are and are not allowed to do when it comes to political activity on social media.
“The message is intended to inform or remind our Marines, Sailors and civilians of Federal statutes and policy when it comes to permissible participation in political activities,” Marine spokesman Capt. Joseph Butterfield told Marine Corps Times in an email Tuesday.
Similar MARADMINs have been released before past presidential election years, and this is just a reminder of what the rules are not a change in policy, Butterfield said.
The guidance reaffirms that Marines can vote, express their personal opinion on candidates, and can even write a letter to the editor expressing their personal opinions and have a candidate’s bumper sticker on their personally owned vehicle, as long as it is clear they are not representing the Marines Corps in their opinion.
In the social media world, Marines are allowed to “express personal views on public issues or political candidates, much the same as they would be permitted to write a letter to the editor of a newspaper," as long as they disclose that their opinion is their own and not that of the DOD or the Marine Corps, according to the Monday MARADMIN first reported by Military.com.
However, in those posts Marines are prohibited from making “direct links to a political party, partisan political candidate, campaign, group, or cause,” because “such activity is akin to distributing literature on behalf of those entities, which is prohibited,” the MARADMIN says.
Active-duty members are allowed to “friend” or “like” social media pages or “follow” social media accounts for political parties, campaigns, candidates or causes, but they cannot ask others to “follow” or “like” the pages, the guidance explains.
The guidance also bars Marines from posting “political messages to a social media account while in a federal building (including when off-duty), even if the individual uses their personal electronic device.”
“'Federal building’ connotes ‘the federal workplace,’” and does not refer to the barracks or on-base housing, Capt. Christopher Harrison said in a Dec. 5 email to Marine Corps Times. So as long as Marines are off-duty and otherwise follow the guidelines, they are free to talk politics on Facebook from their government provided beds.
Marines not on active duty are exempted from the social media policy, 'so long as the member does not act in a manner that could reasonably create the appearance of official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement by the DoD or the Marine Corps," the MARADMIN says.