Rules restrict posting of images, words online

  • Published

Many Airmen like to log onto Internet social sites to keep in touch with friends, meet new ones and vent frustrations.

However, if they use offensive language and images on Twitter, Facebook, and other sites, they could face disciplinary actions for opening a virtual Pandora's Box.

One leading online problem for military people is the posting photos of themselves in uniform while making remarks that would be viewed as sexually offensive or racially bigoted.

"We all know use of racist or sexist language or language critical of the Department of Defense or its officials, if spoken by an Airman who's in uniform, can cause the person big problems," said Philip Donohoe, director of general law at Air Force Reserve Command headquarters.

"If an Airman posts a Web photo of himself or herself in uniform, then also posts language that's racist, sexist or critical of DOD policy or officials, that can also cause problems for the person," he said. "Military people enjoy free speech but they're subject to more limits on free speech than a non-military person of the general public, so they must take some care."

Air Force Instruction 36-2706, Military Equal Opportunity Program, paragraph 1.1.1, mandates that "The Air Force recognizes that all written or verbal communication degrading individuals on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion or sex remain a form of unlawful discrimination."

After people join the service, they are subject to certain free of speech restrictions. The purpose of these restrictions is to protect the integrity of the Armed Services. Airmen need to know they will be held to a higher standard of conduct whether on or off duty.

To be completely safe, military people should never post pictures of themselves engaging in any activity that would cast a bad light on the Air Force. They should never use language accompanying any photos that could be construed as lewd, prejudicial or disparaging. And, they should not post criticisms of the Armed Services or the president while at the same time identifying themselves as service members.

AFI 36-2903, Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel, table 1.3, warns "Do not wear the uniform when participating in public speeches, interviews, picket lines, marches or rallies, or in any public demonstration when the Air Force sanction of the cause for which the activity is conducted may be implied...furthering political activities, private employment or commercial interests or working in an off-duty civilian capacity."

"If you can't wear the uniform in connection with live political activities - meaning you can't go to a political rally while in uniform - then it's highly likely you also can't display or allow display of a photo of yourself in uniform in connection with the same kind of prohibited, political activity," said Mr. Donohoe. "Here, you couldn't and shouldn't post a photo of yourself in uniform on a website that also contains your political statements or someone else's political statements."

Airmen won't get off the hook by saying, "The uniform AFI only talks about actually wearing the uniform when I'm physically attending a political event. But that's just a photo of me in uniform on a website; I'm not 'attending' anything." They will lose the argument, if they posted or allowed their photo in uniform to be posted, on a political website, said Mr. Donohoe.

Another online problem is posting deployment information that could possibly weaken operational security.

Some people have included "countdown clocks" on their profiles that tell the exact date that they will either be deploying overseas or returning home from a deployment. The World War II adage "Loose lips sink ships" meaning unguarded talk could give useful information to the enemy still applies today.

"OPSEC is in place not only to protect the unit but also the individual member," said Mr. Donohoe. "If Al Qaeda is looking to disrupt a U.S. military deployment, guess who just made themselves a good target? If a thief plans to burglarize a house and he knows the exact date that you are away, your house just became a target."

Airmen also should remember that the appearance of Air Force endorsement is a litmus test that can be used to decide if they have crossed the line. Implying Air Force endorsement of any business, personal opinion or Internet site is prohibited under Department of Defense, Joint Ethics Regulation guidelines.

"One of the biggest no-no's is showing yourself in uniform connected in any way with a commercial venture," said Mr. Donohoe. "There is no tolerance for implying military endorsement for your own gain."

The bottom line is that Airmen should use caution, and a little common sense, when using any Internet social site. While freedom of speech is important, protecting the dignity of the Air Force and maintaining OPSEC are paramount, said Mr. Donohoe.

If people see a possible violation, they should report it to their chain of command immediately. (Air Force Reserve Command News Service)