Air Force warns airmen against talking politics on social media
By Mitch Shaw | Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 8, 2016
HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah (Tribune News Service) — In a year that will undoubtedly be headlined by politics both national and local, the Air Force is warning airmen to watch what they say and how they say it.
With the 2016 presidential election just nine months away, the Air Force released an informational video last week, reminding airmen of Department of Defense regulations on discussing politics on social media.
In the video, Tech. Sgt. Holly Roberts-Davis cites a long-established DoD directive that prohibits active-duty military members from directly participating in partisan political activities, but includes updates as the policy relates to social media.
Things like campaigning for a candidate, soliciting donations to a particular campaign and even wearing a military uniform to a partisan political event have long been outlawed by the military, Roberts-Davis says in the video. But 21st century ways of communicating have extended those same concepts to the online world.
Roberts-Davis says active-duty military members are generally allowed to express political views on social media platforms, but there are several important caveats.
“If that social media site, or your post identifies you as on active-duty ... then you must clearly and prominently state that the views expressed are those of you as an individual only and not those of the Department of Defense or your service,” Roberts-Davis says.
But the DoD regulation requires active-duty service members to go beyond clearly identifying personal opinions and thoughts about politics.
Service members are not allowed to post or link to a specific political party, candidate or cause, because in the eyes of the DoD, those activities are the same as distributing literature for them. Active-duty members also cannot post, comment on or share the social media pages of candidates or partisan political organizations because, as Roberts-Davis puts it, “such activity would be engaging in partisan political activity through a medium sponsored or controlled by those entities.”
In a statement sent to the Standard-Examiner, Hill Air Force Base spokesman Rich Essary said Hill airmen are encouraged to fulfill their “civic obligation” to vote, but in order to avoid the implication of Air Force backing, they are prohibited from participating in partisan politics.
“This year voters will select a new president, along with other federal, state and local candidates,” Essary said in the statement. “The Department of Defense has a longstanding and well-defined policy regarding political campaigns and elections to avoid the perception of DoD sponsorship, approval or endorsement of any political candidate, campaign or cause.”
The DoD’s regulations are guided mostly by the Hatch Act, a federal law passed in 1939 restricting certain types of political activity among military members and other federal employees. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel provided updated “guidance” to the act regarding social media activity in 2012 and again in late 2015.
According to a Jan. 7 article featured on the U.S. Army’s webpage written by Army voting assistance officer Keith D. Wilbur, the minimum penalty for a service member found to be violating the Hatch Act is a 30-day suspension without pay. The maximum penalty is dismissal.
Essary said airmen at Hill who have questions about what is permitted regarding political activity should contact their unit judge advocate or their federal voting officer.
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