The Navy issued a new message to its force -active-duty sailors and DoD civilians- regarding the use of social media to discuss politics.
Unlike the Air Force, which suggested that Airmen refrain from discussing politics on social media entirely, the Navy has issued some “Do’s and Don’ts” to abide by.
According to Navy Public Affairs policy, “Active-duty Sailors may generally express their personal views about public issues or political candidates using social media — just like they can write a letter to a newspaper’s editor.”
But there are a few key stipulations.
According to the Navy, if a Sailor’s social media account has any information (pictures, descriptions, statements, etc.) that could “reasonably identifiable them as an active-duty Sailor” they must add a disclaimer to any political statements -which could include but is not limited to comments, posts, infographics/memes- to express that the opinions are of the individual only and not those of the Department of Defense (DoD).
Sailors can like or follow accounts of a political party or partisan candidate, campaign, group or cause but they cannot suggest that others like, friend or follow them or forward an invitation or solicitation.
The Navy’s statement also reminded, “active-duty service members may not engage in any partisan political activity such as posting or making direct links to a political party, partisan political candidate, campaign, group or cause.”
In theory, a Sailor could avoid “reasonable identification” by refraining from listing their profession and posting public photos in uniform to their account, but as active-duty service members they are still subject to additional restrictions based on the Joint Ethics Regulation, the Uniform Code of Military Justice and rules about the use of government resources and government communications systems, including email and internet.
Department of Defense civilians working for the Navy have less regulations when it comes to using social media, as their use is governed by DoD policy and the Hatch Act.
DoD civilians may not participate in political activity, which includes while on social media, while they are on duty -when they’re in a pay status (including during telework hours) other than paid leave.
Federal employees are allowed to use their official title or position on their social media profile but are prohibited from referring to their official titles or positions while engaged in political activity.
The Navy’s statement did not cover all of the regulations regarding social media use and reminded service members to consult their command’s ethics representative if they have any questions.
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