Congressional elections are approaching and according to my Facebook news feed, EVERYBODY has an opinion. Hurray for democracy and free speech, right? My civilian friends are most certainly ethically unencumbered to express their choice for candidates/parties. But what is the best way for members of the military to express themselves in accordance with regulations? When it comes to online “speech,” it is sometimes a little unclear what the ethical choices are.
DOD Directive 1344.10 details the types and extent of political participation of members of the armed forces. For example, we may “Sign a petition for a specific legislative action or a petition to place a candidate’s name on an official election ballot, if the signing does not obligate the member to engage in partisan political activity and is done as a private citizen and not as a representative of the Armed Forces.” Suppose a member joins a group over Facebook supporting a legislative measure, surely he’s acting as a private citizen, right? What if he has set his profile picture to a picture of himself in uniform? Is he still really acting as a private citizen? It doesn’t seem so to me–all the rest of the world sees is a member of the military supporting a political cause.
One thing is clear, we are not permitted to “[publish] partisan political articles, letters, or endorsements signed or written by the member that solicits votes for or against a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.” This should extend to online activity. Think before you update your status!
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