DOD Releases Its First Departmentwide Social Media Policy
- DoD (Military) personnel may use personal, nonofficial accounts to participate in activities such as professional networking, development, and collaboration related to, but not directly associated with, official mission activities as DoD personnel.
- In accordance with United States Office of Government Ethics Legal Advisory 15-03,
when conducting personal, nonofficial communication, DoD personnel must:
- (1) Avoid the distribution and discussion of nonpublic information or the appearance of
official sanction. – This means they cannot disclose any aspect of their assignments including the location of that assignment or what their role is!
- (2) Not disclose nonpublic information, or unclassified information that aggregates to
reveal sensitive or classified information. Again, they cannot disclose location, unit, or role.
- DoD personnel should use non-mission related contact information, such as personal
telephone numbers or postal and e-mail addresses, to establish personal, nonofficial accounts,
when such information is required. This means THEY CAN have gmail or other personal email accounts.
- DoD personnel who are acting in a private capacity have the First Amendment right to
further release or share publicly-released unclassified information through non-DoD forums or
social media provided that no laws or regulations are violated.
- DoD personnel will not post comments or material that denigrates another military or civilian member of the DoD team.
Unfortunately, this recognizes the role of social media in the personal lives of members of the military. However, it really does nothing to address the continuing problem of military impersonation.
OFFICIAL USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA PRINCIPLES
The following core principles of social media use with the DOD are stated in Official Use of Social Media for Public Affairs Purposes (DoD Instruction 5400.17) [see below].
DoDI applies to OSD, the Military Departments, the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Staff, the Combatant Commands, the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Defense, the Defense Agencies, the DOD Field Activities, and all other organizational entities within DOD. This policy does not apply to social media accounts established for marketing activities by Military Service recruiting commands, in accordance with DoDI 1304.35.
OSD and DOD Component PA teams oversee and provide guidance on the use and management of official DOD social media accounts. Communications will align with and support PA objectives and efforts across all platforms.
All official social media content is a reflection of the Department. When posting to official social media accounts, content should meet well-defined, appropriate objectives. Public Affairs Officers will remain respectful, responsive, and genuine, and exercise the same high standard of professional and ethical behavior on social media accounts as they do during any other function or on any other platform. Content should inspire and engage with audiences. At no time, however, should such content undermine the Department’s efforts to remain a good steward of the public trust. No content will be released that could be reasonably construed as offensive, inappropriate, or unbecoming. Official social media accounts must not be used to promote or endorse non-Federal entities or personal financial interests. Only designated DOD personnel may authorize release of information on social media accounts; contractor personnel may support EOP maintenance but cannot authorize the release of public information.
Posts released from official DOD social media accounts must be:
- Accurate. The content is accurate.
- Appropriate. The account is the proper vehicle for the message.
- Timely. The message can be delivered at the proper time.
- In the Appropriate Tone. The message is being delivered in the proper tone.
- Approved for public release. The message has been reviewed for operations security and information security concerns and approved for public release, in accordance with DoDI 5230.09 and DoDI 5230.29, as applicable.
PA officers and social media account managers should proactively maintain currency in the latest social media tactics, best practices, and trends, coupled with an understanding of and ability to apply PA objectives (e.g., as articulated in the DOD Communications Playbook). Social media account managers must complete operations security training Level 2 and be prepared to act quickly and implement evolving capabilities intelligently to remain effective in the use of the platform.
New official accounts should only be established if a specific communications outcome cannot be fulfilled by an existing account(s) or other means of communication. More for the sake of more is not necessarily better. Please consult Section 4 of DoDI 5400.17 before creating new official DOD social media accounts.
Social media account managers will not remove social media content from official DOD accounts unless there is a factual or typographical error; violation of a law, policy, term of service, or user agreement; or an operations or information security concern. Removal of content will be publicly acknowledged and communicated to audiences to provide context and appropriate clarification for the action; managers must persistently monitor, communicate, and, where appropriate, responsively engage with users regarding such removal. Removal of content can unintentionally discredit DOD information if the action appears to be taken to:
- Avoid embarrassment;
- Stifle or silence discussion about a controversial topic; or
- Mislead users to believe an issue is inconsequential or of minor significance.
The Defense Department today released a policy that for the first time spells out, from the highest levels of the defense community, how DOD military and civilian personnel should use official social media accounts to best advance the mission of the U.S. military and further instill trust in the credibility of the DOD.
DOD Instruction 5400.17, titled “Official Use of Social Media for Public Affairs Purposes,” [see below] provides principles for social media use within DOD, direction regarding records management procedures for social media accounts, and guidance to ensure personal social media accounts are not misrepresented or misinterpreted as official accounts.
While some of the military services and other agencies published social media policies years ago, DODI 5400.17 is the department’s first instruction that provided Pentagon-level, departmentwide guidance that specifically addresses the use of social media. The DOD chief information officer previously issued DODI 8170.01, “Online Information Management and Electronic Messaging,” [see below] to provide broad policy guidance on the secure and appropriate use of social media. The new policy specifically addresses public affairs uses and responsibilities.
“It’s long overdue,” Andy Oare, director of digital media for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said. “There have been efforts in the past to do this, but in an organization of this size and magnitude, you need to fully coordinate and ensure all viewpoints are heard and represented. We wanted to make sure the services were collaborators from the very beginning.”
Because social media changes rapidly, Oare said policies that the department may have started developing in the past but had never finalized would quickly show their age. That won’t happen with the newly published instruction, and he stressed that this policy will be continually refined and updated based on the evolving social media landscape.
“We’ll work across the department to be agile and responsive in our day-to-day operations as we implement this policy and update it where and when we should,” Oare said.
“Social media has an effect on every one of our service members, civilians, contractors and their families — whether they run an official account or have never heard of Twitter,” Oare said. “We owe it to all of them to have one central policy that provides a clearly articulated standard of operation and accountability.”
The DOD social media policy applies to Office of the Secretary of Defense personnel, the military departments, the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Staff, the combatant commands, and other DOD offices and agencies. In some cases, this means the new policy will supersede preexisting social media policies, but close coordination throughout its development ensured that all perspectives were considered and integrated.
“We deliberately wrote it in a collaborative manner, and it encourages component heads to continue establishing component-specific social media regulations,” Oare said. “Our aim is not to be prescriptive or restrictive, but rather to lay out some commonsense rules that simply have not been formally articulated at this level.”
In addition to detailing the roles and responsibilities of DOD leadership in enforcing responsible social media practices, the new policy offers guidance to department personnel who generate content on official social media platforms to ensure responsible use of the medium, key elements to consider when establishing a new presence or expanding into new platforms, and on the authority to close unused accounts.
“If social media is mismanaged or mishandled, the U.S. government’s reputation with the American public; relationships with interagency, international, state, local and tribal entities; military operations; and reputation for a high ethical and professional standard may be compromised,” the policy warns social media practitioners.
The guidance in DODI 5400.17 is meant to ensure DOD’s credibility and avoid controversy, while using social media to share its missions with the public, Oare said.
“In a digital world where lines of truth and authenticity are so often blurred, it’s important that institutions like us have trusted, verifiable and reliable presences,” Oare said. “We have a duty to the American people to show the work we’re doing, to tell the story of our service members, and to present that information though channels they use in their daily lives.”
DoD Policy Documents Follow: