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Politics and Social Media: DoD do’s and don’ts

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- During election season opinions and emotions run high. Often these thoughts spill over into comments and posts on social media, which may place military members in hot water.

Members of the armed forces need to be aware of what is, and is not, acceptable concerning expressing political opinions. In general, don’t post anything that could imply military support for any political party, campaign, or cause.

“You are not supposed to use social media as a billboard for a political campaign,” said Capt. Chelsea Beshore, 21st Space Wing Judge Advocate General assistant staff judge advocate.

Active-duty Airmen can generally express personal opinions and ideas about public issues or political candidates using social media, the same as they can write a letter to a newspaper’s editor. The thing to watch for is whether the social media site, or its content, identify the Airman as active duty (or a reservist on Title 10 orders). If so, or if they are reasonably identified as an active-duty Airman, a disclaimer needs to be added to the content.

“They can express their opinions and ideas, but if it could be construed as (endorsed by) the military, it needs the disclaimer,” Beshore said.

The disclaimer must clearly and prominently state that the views expressed belong to the individual and are not the opinions of the Air Force or Department of Defense. Airmen not on active duty are not subject to the social media restrictions as long as they don’t create the appearance or perception of official approval or endorsement by the DoD.

There are, however, a number of activities members of the armed forces cannot do in regard to displaying political opinion and support on social media. They cannot engage in partisan political activity, including posting or making direct links to a political party, partisan political candidate, campaign, group or cause. That is considered the same as distributing literature on behalf of those entities, which is prohibited. This also includes not liking or commenting on social media posts from these groups.

Active-duty Airmen can like or follow social media pages belonging to a political party, candidate, campaign, group or cause. But, they cannot encourage or recruit others to like, friend or follow those social media accounts, or forward invitations or solicitations.

The DoD encourages all active-duty Airmen to exercise their right to express political views and to vote. Just remember to be clear that any opinions posted to social media do not imply DoD endorsement.

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