A tweet from the official Marine Corps Twitter account about a historical first for women in the Corps has drawn questions because of a decision to disable reader comments.
For the first time in history, women arrived at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego to begin boot camp. Though the depot has been training Marines for nearly 100 years, the Corps has exclusively sent men to San Diego ― until Friday.
The move was part of Corps’ process to fully gender-integrate boot camp at the platoon level at both Marine Corps facilities, as now required by Congress.
The tweet with a “Today” show story attached was retweeted by the official accounts of both Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black.
Though the tweet may have been intended to celebrate the historical achievement, some believe that disabling the comments may help reinforce the toxic culture that surrounds women in the military. It also brings up First Amendment issues surrounding government accounts.
A later tweet by Black congratulated the women for making history and did so with comments enabled.
Twitter started allowing accounts to limit replies in May 2020, with a full rollout of the feature on Aug. 11, 2020, according the official Twitter account.
“We are testing out a feature on Twitter that we have not used before,” Capt. Casey Littesy, a spokeswoman for the Marine Corps, told Marine Corps Times in a Tuesday email.
On Tuesday, the Marine Corps sent out another tweet with disabled comments, also about the women attending boot camp at San Diego.
In 2020, the Navy and Army esports teams came under fire for blocking users on their Twitch live-streaming pages.
The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University in New York, along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., came out hard against the policy, accusing the teams of violating the First Amendment rights of those they had blocked.
Eventually the teams unblocked nearly 300 users from their streams. The Marine Corps does not have an esports team because combat is “too serious to be gamified,” Marine Corps Times previously reported.
Katie Fallow, a senior staffer with the Knight First Amendment Institute, said disabling comments on Twitter is less clear cut of a First Amendment violation than blocking users is.
“This is a harder First Amendment question than the one presented when public officials block critics from commenting on their official social media accounts,” Fallow said in a Friday email.
“Choosing to limit replies only to the accounts mentioned in the post may be viewed as more like a private meeting with supporters, which the courts have held is not a public forum,” she added.
A Defense Department spokesperson speaking anonymously for fear of retribution said lack of two-way communication is a bad precedent to set by military accounts.
“This is not effective government communication because it strips away two-way communication and it also takes away the Marine Corps’ ability to confront some of these attitudes and behaviors head on,” the spokesperson said.
Social media vitriol
The Marine Corps is no stranger to derogatory comments on social media posts.
In the summer of 2020, the Facebook page for the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina, published a post celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Marines.
The post garnered dozens of comments lamenting the state of the modern Marine Corps as a social experiment gone wrong.
In a series of replies, Chief Warrant Officer Bobby Yarbrough, a communications officer at the recruit depot, defended the Corps’ policy on LGBT Marines and the importance of diversity in the Marine Corps.
The anonymous defense official told Marine Corps Times, “If the service is truly proud of that policy or that decision then there should be no reason to silence opposing viewpoints.”
“In fact, if the Marine Corps is serious about confronting discrimination, they could attack it head on, on a public forum and let those individuals know the Marine Corps supports the new female recruits at San Diego,” the spokesperson added.
Marine veteran Kate Germano said blocking comments allowed the Marine Corps to turn a blind eye to the problems women in the Marine Corps face.
“By disabling the comments, they are conveniently and willfully blind to the systemic cultural gaps between men and women Marines and how they are perceived and treated,” Germano said in an email.
While in the Corps, Germano served in Marine Corps recruiting and was the commander of the 4th Recruit Training Battalion on Parris Island, South Carolina. Then, it was the only unit where women who enlisted in the Marine Corps were trained. She was relieved of her command of the training battalion in 2015 for having a “hostile, unprofessional and abusive” command.
Germano has defended her leadership of the battalion and since authored the book, “Fight Like a Girl,” about her experience in command and the systemic gender bias involved in Marine Corps recruit training.
Since Germano retired, the Corps has implemented some of her then-controversial training methods.
Germano added that she found it interesting the Marine Corps would use the word “nurture” in its tweet because it is what she called, “an inherently biased and gender specific word.”
If blocking replies was an attempt to prevent Twitter users from criticizing the historic move to train women in San Diego, the Corps failed.
Though users could not reply directly, they could still “quote tweet” ― or re-tweet the post on their own page with the own commentary.
Some of the public replies were cheering on the Marine Corps, but others were filled with the misogynistic vitriol the Corps likely wanted to avoid.
One comment said, “Devil Dogs Our Corps is going to hell, men, women, gays & trans, is the order of the day now, back in 68 we only had 4 kind of bodies, Fat bodies, Thin bodies, Warm bodies, & Cold bodies, and home is where my Gunny is, Get Some.”
Other users, both for and against the move, saw the decision to disable replies as a sign that the Corps does not truly back the move.
“This is exciting news but the Marines did have to disable the comments section. Did a bunch of men throw a fit about inclusion?” one user asked.
Though Fallow said the move may not have violated any constitutional rights, she still questioned the decision.
“Whatever the answer to the First Amendment question, it’s worth asking whether it’s a good idea for an official Marine Corps account to prevent the public from commenting on a post.”