Social Media Policies for the Military

Soldier on social media

Who would have thought that one of the U.S. military’s biggest adversaries is social media? With the rise of social media, it’s imperative for the military to actively maintain various social media channels to stay up to date with the newest trends in digital communication. This is necessary to inform the American people as well as tell their branches story. While being active on social media is great for the military to accomplish these missions, it comes with certain downfalls such as the release of confidential and mission critical information, geotagging, and the distinction between personal and military opinions.

Each branch maintains various social media policies that manage expectations of military and civilian personnel who use both DoD and personal social media accounts. The U.S. Army alone has 12 policies, regulations, and directorates towards proper social media use. It is also a huge undertaking as younger and newer Soldiers are joining the ranks everyday that are well-versed in social media, and probably didn’t have guidelines to its usage before joining.

In comparing social media policies between DoD entities and civilian ones, there isn’t much difference because social media usage is relative. In creating social media policies, organizations want to ensure that their personnel are using social media the right ways to represent them, even when they are off duty.

Looking at this more in depth, there are things to always include in social media policies. A good take on this comes from HR executives within The Forbes Human Resources Council. They give eight great examples of what a social media policy includes: 

1) Educating employees about social media.

2) Reminding employees of blurred personal/professional lines.

3) Presenting views in a professional manner.

4) Respecting professional boundaries.

5)  Keeping workplace issues or conflicts confidential.

6) Clarifying whose opinion is expressed.

7) Representing and employer across all platforms.

8) Non-disclosing confidential or proprietary information.

These examples are all true when referring to military social media policies. The ones that stand out the most though are educating the personnel, clarifying whose opinion is expressed, and non-disclosing confidential or proprietary information.

The U.S. Army has a online “social media handbook” that includes information about conduct, political activity, scams, and operational security that is beneficial to DoD personnel and their families. They make it easily accessible and lay out simply what is seen as right and wrong. When looking at certain examples of “do’s and don’ts” for operations security, the following is listed:

-Talk to your Family about OPSEC, so they know what can and cannot be posted.

-Turn off geotagging and location-based social networking on phones and digital cameras.

-Maximize your security settings on social platforms and include two-step verification, if available.

-Closely review photos or videos before posting to ensure sensitive or personal information is not released (e.g., troop locations, equipment, tactical unit details, and numbers of personnel).

Some of the don’ts include:

-Use copyrighted media.

-Post details about your assigned unit’s mission or security procedures.

-Announce locations and times of your unit deployments.

-Release information about the death of a Service member before the next of kin is notified and the information is released by the DOD.

-Post unit morale or personnel problems.

Recent examples of social media and digital communication mishaps within the military that led to further education and updating of social media policies are below.

A fitness tracking app created activity maps of its users, and these maps were accessible to anyone who clicked on a user’s profile. This might not be bad for some, but in areas like Afghanistan, Syria, and locations in Africa, these maps reveal heavily used routes for military members that not only gave away running routes, but movement routes, base locations, and more. 

With politics taking center stage every day, there is so much revolving around recent and future political races. The U.S. Army has strict guidelines for how their personnel can or can not take action on social media:

-Cannot participate in any interview or discussion as an advocate for or against a party, candidate or cause.

-Can generally express their personal views on public issues or political candidates via social media platforms much the same as they would be permitted to write a letter to the editor of a newspaper.

-Cannot participate in partisan political activity.

-Can “follow,” “friend,” or “like” a political party or candidate running for partisan office.

-Cannot post links to, “share” or “retweet” comments or tweets from a Facebook page or Twitter account of a political party or candidate running for partisan office. Such activity is deemed to constitute participation in political activities.

-Cannot communicate contemptuous words against the president, vice president, secretary of defense, deputy secretary of defense, secretary of the navy, or governor and legislature of any state in which he or she is located or performing duty in. It’s against federal law for commissioned officers to communicate in this manner.

Social media policies are a way for organizations to ensure their personnel know what they can and can’t do on social media channels. Usage of social media by military members and military commands are great so they can inform the American people and tell their story.  Enacting social media policies ensures that this is done the right way. It doesn’t stop with the creation of these guidelines though. Educating personnel and making these policies easily accessible are a great way to prove these guidelines aren’t just for show.


To find out more information, click on the links below:

Army Social Media- Soldiers and Families

ALARACT- Professionalization of Online Conduct

Social Media Misconduct Won’t be Tolerated by C. Todd Lopez

Why Your Business Needs a Social Media Policy and Eight Things it Should Cover by Forbes Human Resources Council

Fitness App Reveals Where US Military Personnel Work and Live by Rebecca Tan


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