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The Unintended Consequences of Social Media, Career Ender

Fox News recently released an article about social media and the Army. See Full Article Here.

It’s a Long Weekend at Fort Anyplace

You and a few friends decide to get together and kick back, enjoy the PlayStation and the latest “Call to Duty” sequel.  The action is intense, alcohol is flowing and everything is GROOVEY.  Next thing you know some young lady’s enter the scene.  As the evening progresses and the alcohol flows you begin to prank each other, take some photos, at some point people are topless and photos are being snapped.  Comments are made and someone becomes offended.  Then everything calms down we are all friends again and we all drift off to sleep thinking everything is cool…

Some Where After the Alcohol has Started to Evaporat and Just the Sun Rises

You get a call from the 1SG….

1SG: SPC Acorn, get your butt in uniform and get to the unit NOW!

SPC Acorn: ROGER 1SG!  1SG What’s going on?

1SG: Nobody Asked you to talk Specialist in my office now!

……..20 minutes later you get the unit and pop to parade rest in front of the 1SG…no body’s talking to you…YET.  You did notice a couple of Soldiers that you partied with last night as you walked in…and OH YEAH! what were they doing talking to the Commander and MPs?  Then the moment of truth…

1SG:  SPC Acorn, any idea why you are here?

SPC Acorn: None at all 1SG

1SG: You have a good time last night?

SPC Acorn: Roger 1SG.

1SG: Bet you did…let me introduce you to SGT Dawg and Specialist Teeth.  They are military police and are here to escort you to the MP station.  Appears you are being arrested for some type of sexual misconduct, underage drinking, and a few other charges based on the statements these Soldiers gave and interestingly enough these photos you posted on your Social Media account last night at 0200 hours.

SPC Acorn: 1SG that’s not true…that’s not what it was at all!

1SG: Specialist Acorn, I can’t help you.  These photos and your comments associated with them are pretty  cut and dry.  I would encourage you to keep your mouth shut until you speak with an attorney.

From the Soldier’s perspective life pretty much sucks at this point but guess what it gets better.  Now your name is on the blotter which goes out to God and everyone on base to include the Post Commander.  Guilty or not you have given bad press to your unit and the post on your Social Media account really hurt the matter even if you can explain some of it away the damage is done.

You went from a Hero to a zero almost overnight from a self inflicted wound with some serious charges pending against you.  Not a fun place to be.  Even if you are able to work through the issue and it is later determined that you did nothing grossly wrong you have still hurt your reputation with your leaders.  They will now carry doubt about your ability to make sound decisions and maintain self discipline.  You can potentially recover from an event like this but it did not need to happen in the first place.  A little self discipline goes along way.

Using Social Media in the Army

“Just because you are off duty does not mean the code of conduct or military rules/regulations do not apply. Many of the Soldiers that post the inappropriate content are young and inexperienced Soldiers.”

The New Way to Get in Trouble and Ruin A Career

Young Soldiers to include some officers have flocked to the Social Media sensation.  Often times posting inappropriate content highlighting off duty behavior such as: underage driving, risky behavior, hazing, inappropriate sexual references, and comments concerning members of their unit. The key would be to not become involved in this type of behavior.  Posting this information to Social Media only adds fuel to the fire.  Imagine a FRIENEMY that spots your bad behavior or even the perception of bad behavior…next thing you know…you and the Commander/1SG are discussing your personal life and your Social Media posting habits.  All courtesy of a so called friend.

Off Duty- The Rules Still Apply

Soldiers need to realize that this becomes public information that can be used against them in Article 15 or Courts-Marital proceedings.  Just because you are off duty does not mean the code of conduct or military rules/regulations do not apply.  Many of the Soldiers that post the inappropriate content are young and inexperienced Soldiers.

What to do About Social Media and Inappropriate Posts

I believe the chain of command at least at the Squad Leader level should have some frank discussions with their Soldiers about social posting.  Young people often times do not understand the adverse consequences of their behavior.  Something seen as funny or a prank can result in punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and/or revocation or declination of a security clearance.  These post can have a lasting impact on a Soldier’s career and post civilian life.

Social Media Post and the Hiring Process

Social Media post also have the ability to adversely impact young citizens before they join the Armed Services.  I see a future where a citizen applies to be a Soldier and they are rejected based on the background check and Social Media history.  Employers are already using Social Media as a filter to screen out candidates they deem high risk.

As Mark Twain said “Youth is wasted on the young.” I did not realize how right he was until I was in my late 30′s.  We must find a good way to engage our young Soldiers and assist them in understanding the risks associated with irresponsible behavior as the world is quickly becoming less forgiving for errors made as a young adult.  We all make mistakes as we grown up. Unfortunately technology is making our mistakes front page news across Social Media sites.

Gauging Your Social Media Posting Habits

We have all done something that we are not proud of or wish we would have handled in a more appropriate manner.  The problem in today’s electronic society is that this behavior is instantly advertised across the internet to an audience you cannot filter or screen.  Usually common sense is a good gauge as to what to post.  In those cases where you might struggle or wonder if it is a good idea here is a rule to follow. A good rule of thumb to determine if the post is appropriate is to ask yourself one question:  “Would I be proud of my actions if someone I cared about (Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, Spouse) saw what I did?”  If the answer is “NO”, then don’t do it.

We Ain’t Civilians- Keep Your Private Life Private

Like it or not signing up for the Army resulted in signing away certain freedoms we enjoy as civilians.  A good rule of thumb is to keep your private life private. The best way to do this is not to friend your subordinates or seniors and keep your private life to yourself.  The more you open up your private life to others the more others know about you and the more susceptible you are to garnering attention from members of your unit.

WAR STORY: Frequently during Article 15 proceedings I heard Soldiers make the following statement

“This is my personal life, why are you in my personal life?”

The answer was simple.  “You failed to keep your personal life private. Your actions caused your private life to become entangled with your professional life. Remember, no one went out looking for your private life, it was delivered to our doorstep.”  Your actions were brought to the attention of Leaders within your chain of command, your conduct violated military law or regulation.  At the moment your private life intersected your professional life it became our business.  Translation: Your Private Life is now your Professional Life- Like It or Not: and therefore you are accountable.”  Like it or not that’s the reality.

I know of no leader that takes pleasure in metering out punishment.  If Soldiers would exercise good judgment then many Article 15 proceedings would disappear.  I also understand that some behavior is part of being a young, immature, inexperience adult finding your way in life.  The key is to learn from other peoples mistakes and not destroy your future over a few moments of stupidity or lapses of judgment.

6 Steps to Engaging Your Soldiers About Social Media

I believe if you follow these steps you will mitigate many of the issues involved with being a young adult:

  1. Keep your private life private.
  2. Share with your Soldiers the impact of what can happen for a simple lapse in judgment
  3. Share the links for the Social Media handbook and Social Media considerations with your Soldiers.
  4. Consider having a class with your Soldiers on the subject
  5. Have your Soldiers read the Social Media Handbook and give you a back brief.
  6. Get to know your Soldiers, identify at risk behaviors, counsel them and talk to them.

Who’s Reading This Article?

Odds are not the young Soldier.  Chances are if you are reading my post you are a leader looking for ways to connect with your Soldiers.  The only way to help your Soldiers is by educating them.

They have a choice.  They can attend “Leader University” (Listen to You) or they can attend the “School of Hard Knocks”- This institution is responsible for the end of many a promising career.  Soldiers need to learn by observing, listening, understanding norms and most importantly by learning from the mistakes of others- Trust me, there are plenty of examples. The key is not to preach to the Soldier but to show you career by establishing a sincere concern and developing a mutual trust between each other.

Army Social Media References

I have attached some information for your review at the end of this article and have also provided links for your convenience.

Army Social Media Handbook

6 Social Media Considerations for Deployed Soldiers and Their Families

posted on 12/04/2013 under Articles, Site News
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Mark is a Retired Command Sergeant Major with 26 years of military leadership experience. He held 3 military occupational specialties (Field Artillery, Nuclear Weapons Tech, and Ammunition Ordnance). Mark is one of the leading military authors in the fields of leadership, counseling, and training..

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