By Yonca Poyraz-Dogan
Navy Office of Information
As midterm elections are at the door, some guidance on the use of social media, military support of political activities and use of government sources could help to distinguish between official business and activities of candidates. Additionally, how about what to avoid while using social media?
The Department of Defense (DoD) has the answers concerning these issues. First of all, DoD encourages all of its members to carry out the obligations of citizenship, including voting and encourages others to vote. However, active duty members should not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign or cause.
A DoD memorandum also indicates that commanders responsible of military post offices will ensure expeditious processing of balloting material and proper postmarking and date stamping of absentee ballots.
Regarding public commentary and endorsement, DoD guidelines state that any activity that may be reasonably viewed as directly or indirectly associating with DoD, or any component or personnel of the department, with a partisan political activity or is otherwise contrary to the spirit should be avoided.
When it comes to online activities and use of social media, DoD memorandum states that Facebook and Twitter are specifically mentioned because of their popularity but, the guidance provided applies equally to all other social media platforms, such as Tumblr, LinkedIn, etc. The following policy guidance addresses the use of social media for political purposes:
- In general, all federal employees and active duty members may use social media and email to express his or her own 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. If a social media site/post identifies the member as on active duty — or if the member is otherwise reasonably identifiable as an active duty member — then the entry will clearly and prominently state that the views expressed are those of the individual only and not those of the DoD. An active duty member may not, however, engage in any partisan political activity. Further, an active duty member may not post or make direct links to a political party, partisan political candidate, campaign, group or cause because such activity is the equivalent of distributing literature on behalf of those entities or individuals, which is prohibited by reference.
- An active duty member may become a friend of or like the Facebook page, or follow the social media account of a political party or partisan candidate, campaign, group or cause. However, active duty members will refrain from engaging in activities with respect to those entities’ social media accounts that would constitute political activity. This would include, for example, suggesting that others like, friend, or follow the political party, partisan political candidate, campaign, group or cause, or forwarding an invitation or solicitation from said entities to others.
- Active duty members are subject to additional restrictions based on the Joint Ethics Regulation, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and service-specific rules, to include rules governing the use of government resources and governmental communications systems, such as email and internet usage.
- Members of the armed forces not on active duty are not subject to the social media restrictions listed above so long as the member does not act in a manner that could reasonably create the perception or appearance of official sponsorship, approval or endorsement by the DoD or the member’s service.
In addition to being mindful about your political posts, tweets, snaps, etc., don’t forget about expectations for online conduct by Sailors and Department of the Navy civilians.
Do you still have questions? Then, take a look at this:
What is the DoD policy regarding political activities by members of the armed forces?
DoD encourages members of the armed forces to carry out the obligations of citizenship, including voting and encourages others to vote. However, active duty members will not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel will avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign or cause.
What political activities can a service member participate in and which ones are prohibited?
DoD has a longstanding policy of encouraging military personnel to carry out the obligations of citizenship, and certain political activities are permitted, such as voting and making a personal monetary donation. However, active duty members will not engage in partisan political activities, and all military personnel will avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign or cause. Examples of political activities that are prohibited include campaigning for a candidate, soliciting contributions, marching in a partisan parade and wearing the uniform to a partisan event. For a complete list of permissible and prohibited activities, please consult DoD Directive 1344.10.
Does that mean a service member can vote, but not actively support a particular candidate or cause?
Unquestionably, service members can exercise their right to vote. However, active duty members will not engage in partisan political activities and will avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval or endorsement. For a list of permissible and prohibited activities, please consult DoD Directive 1344.10.
What about DoD civilians?
DoD civilians may express their opinions about a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race by posting, liking, sharing, tweeting or retweeting, but there are a few limitations. The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from:
- Engaging in any political activity via social media while on duty or in the workplace
- Referring to their official titles or positions while engaged in political activity at any time (note that including an employee’s official title or position on one’s social media profile, without more, is not an improper use of official authority)
- Suggesting or asking anyone to make political contributions at any time, including providing links to the political contribution page of any partisan group or candidate in a partisan race or liking, sharing or retweeting a solicitation from one of those entities and invitation to a political fundraising event. However, an employee may accept an invitation to a political fundraising event from such entities via social media.
Does DoD support and encourage its personnel to vote?
DoD encourages all members of the armed forces and federal civilian employees to register and vote. The department actively supports the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) to ensure its personnel have the resources, time and ability to participate in their civic duty. Additionally, department leaders and military commanders appoint voting assistance officers at every level of command and ensure they are trained and equipped to provide voting assistance.
Does DoD provide any voting assistance?
Yes, DoD provides voting assistance via the Federal Voting Assistance Program. FVAP works to ensure service members, their eligible family members and overseas citizens are aware of their right to vote and have the tools and resources to successfully do so – from anywhere in the world via FVAP.gov. The services also provide voting assistance officers at the unit level to facilitate in-person assistance when required.
Finally, the above information doesn’t cover every situation. If in doubt, consult your command’s ethics counselor.