1.083 billion. That is the number of active Facebook users in the world today, and it will probably be more tomorrow. We live in a social media culture. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have integrated themselves into the daily lives of United States citizens. Unlike most United States citizens, however, members of the U.S. military are held to high standards under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The Military law lawyers at Military Trial Defenders constantly warn their clients to be cautious with their social media posts. This is especially prevalent when a client is under investigation. But can a simple Facebook post or ‘tweet’ really cause that much damage? The overwhelming evidence says “yes.”
What About Freedom of Speech?
When a U.S. citizen chooses to join the military, they are knowingly joining a “specialized society from civilian society”. Such a society requires greater restrictions. The federal government is afforded the right to place restrictions on conduct that would not necessarily be applied to civilians. That does not mean that people lose their fundamental rights when they enter the military. It does mean, however, that they willingly submit themselves to a higher standard.
As demonstrated in Parker v. Levy, a famous 1974 freedom of speech case, military members have restrictions on their right to voice their opinions. Specifically, the UCMJ prevents military personnel from using “contemptuous words” when referring to government officials and the president. That means that a negative 140 character blurb about about a political figure on Twitter can be incredibly costly.
An Example of Social Media Misuse
There are several unfortunate examples in which military members have received an Other than Honorable discharge for statements posted on social media. One such instance occurred when a Marine Sergeant started a Tea Party Facebook page and posted comments regarding his refusal to follow any orders issued by President Obama. His social media use ultimately led to his discharge.
Members of the military must follow their country’s orders. Any comments that fail to preserve neutrality or remain apolitical can result in serious consequences. Because social media is a hot spot for political discourse, members of the military must be extra cautious when it comes to participation on threads and involvement in groups.
Social Media Advice from Military Law Lawyers
Even non-political posts can be detrimental for military members, particularly while on trial. If a service member is facing an allegation, anything that he or she posts on social media can be used by the prosecution. Military law lawyers warn military personnel to obtain from posting on social media during a trial, and they promote overall caution when using social media in general. If you are currently facing administrative or criminal penalties for social media posts, consult with the military law lawyers at Military Trial Defenders. We’ll help you work through this complex and challenging situation.