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Social media requires care, caution with political material

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AFNS) -- Most Americans are born with a political rattle in their hands and learn to shake it early.

While U.S. culture promotes opinions and debate, Airmen should be reminded that, while on active duty -- and even for reservists who may be perceived as active military representatives, participating in politics on social media is exactly the same as it is in person: strictly prohibited.

According to a list of Defense Department and Air Force Instructions longer than the average Airman's arm, which includes the 2014-2015 Voting Assistance Guide, DODI 1000.04, Federal Voting Assistance Program and the Office of U.S. Special Counsel FAQ page, regarding social media and the Hatch Act, participating in politics is prohibited for members of the DOD and Department of Homeland Security when that participation can be interpreted as an official endorsement.

For active-duty Airmen, that's any Facebook share, Twitter retweet or other repost of material from a political party, partisan candidate or campaign profile to friends, or even to post on those sites in a way that would constitute political activity. Nor can Airmen suggest their friends "like" those sites.

It's exactly like in-person partisan political activity -- no stumping or selling a particular candidate, party or campaign.

However, it doesn't mean an Airman can't offer an opinion.

As in the past, when Airmen could write letters to the editor regarding particular issues, Airmen may still post their opinions on their own pages and that of nonpartisan sites and organizations. However, as with the newspapers, if the writer is identified as an Airman or other representative of the U.S. armed forces—which active-duty members are considered just that by default—then it must be clear that the Airman's opinion is a personal one, and does not reflect the official stance of any government agency.

For members not on active duty, such as reservists and guardsmen, political activity is permitted on social media so long as their participation in no way implies official endorsement or condemnation of any particular partisan political entity.

If an Airman has any doubt as to what is or is not permitted, he or she could contact their unit judge advocate or their Federal Voting Officer to ensure any participation is legal.

For more information, visit Federal Voting Assistance Program website or refer to these references:

• DODI 5405.3, Development of Proposed Public Affairs Guidance
• 2012 DOD Public Affairs Guidance for Political Campaigns and Elections
• DODD 1344.10, Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces
• 5 U.S.C, Sec. 7321-7326, The Hatch Act of 1939, as amended in 1993
• 5 C.F.R. Parts 733-734, Political Activities of Federal Employees
• DODI 5120.4, DOD Newspapers, Magazines and Civilian Enterprise Publications
• DODI 1100.13, Surveys of DOD Personnel
• DODI 5120.20, American Forces Radio and Television Service
• DODR 5120.20-R, Management and Operation of AFRTS
• DODD 5410.18, Public Affairs Community Relations Policy
• DODI 5410.19, Public Affairs Community Relations Policy Implementation
• DODI 1000.04, Federal Voting Assistance Program and Directive-Type Memorandum 10-021, Guidance In Implementing Installation Voter Assistance Offices
• 2014-2015 Voting Assistance Guide
• DODD 1344.13, Implementation of The National Voter Registration Act
• U.S Office of Special Counsel, Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Social Media and the Hatch Act, dated April 4, 2012 (supersedes social media advisory, dated August 10, 2010)
• Internal Revenue Code
• 18 U.S.C. 609, Use of military authority to influence vote of member of Armed Forces
• DODD 1344.13, Implementation of The National Voter Registration Act
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