In recent years, it has become common to see current members of the U.S. military using Facebook, Twitter and other social media as a platform for airing online treachery about President Obama and his policies. Despite the president’s re-election last November with 332 electoral votes — a higher total than President George W. Bush received in either of his election wins — this directing of online spite and vitriol toward the commander-in-chief by some servicemen and servicewomen does not appear likely to stop any time soon. This reality raises two interconnected questions: Are military members allowed to make such posts, and, even if they are, should they make them?
In exercising the right of free speech, the military is certainly unique. Voicing opinions on political matters and the nation’s culture in public forums is one thing, but committing acts of perfidy is quite another. When it comes to rights associated with the freedom of speech, known collectively as right of “military expression” since 2001, members of the U.S. military are held to higher standards than your average citizen. Enlisted men and women enjoy the same freedoms that civilians do, which obviously includes freedom of speech; however, soldiers are expected to be mindful of their audience and not engage in certain types of political activity. Military members are generally allowed to write letters to newspapers, but not as part of an organized letter campaign for a political candidate, party or partisan cause. Similarly, according to Department of Defense regulations, servicemembers have the “right of expression, to the maximum extent possible, consistent with good order and discipline and the national security.” But this right is limited; a soldier may attend a demonstration only when it is off-base (but inside the United States), the soldier is off duty and not in uniform, and the demonstration is unlikely to become violent.
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