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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
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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  • Mark Gerecht


    The unintended consequences of Social Media strikes again! Recently a Soldier avoided saluting the flag by hiding in her car. Then posted her comments on Social Media. Unfortunately the attention she got was not what she expected. She the full article here is the link to the full Article: Soldier avoids Salute-Sets off Online Outrage
    It is unfortunate Soldiers must learn from the School of Hard Knocks.

    • Eck



      I understand the outrage over this young Soldier’s post and I think she should be punished for her actions. But my thoughts go a little further.

      What she did is a disgrace to the uniform and everyone before her who has worn it. However, she needs to be educated and given the opportunity to overcome her shortcomings. This is a prime opportunity for her NCO’s to educate her on the importance of discipline and customs and courtesy. Posting this on Facebook was extremely stupid and immature. However, I have witnessed NCO’s and Officers making sure they stay inside until retreat is over or rushing into a building to not get caught outside when the trumpet blows.

      Incidentally, even when indoors, military members are supposed to stand at attention and face the direction of the flag when retreat sounds. How many military members have seen this happen? I have only seen this enforced at one battalion I was in on a TRADOC base.

      While her actions are inexcusable, she did nothing different than many military members senior to her do on a daily basis (not hiding in a car specifically, but avoid being caught outside during retreat). Her biggest issue was blatantly posting it on Facebook. She is a young Soldier who needs to be educated and have NCOs to mentor her to become a productive Soldier who is proud of her country and the uniform she is allowed to wear.

      • Mark Gerecht


        You bring up some good points. I think what this incident highlights, is young Soldiers expressing their immaturity and lack of experience to an audience without understanding the unintended consequences. If she would have done this like the other Soldiers you describe the impact is basically on her and the leader that allows it (if applicable). By broadcasting her message to a large community and then adding a layer of arrogance to her post fueled the audience to become enraged, consequently had she do this and not posted the event to Social Media the event would have most likely gone unnoticed. This Soldier’s actions reached major new media outlets and I do not believe that was her intent however the unintended consequences of her actions had a far reach impact not just on the Army but on the American public. If 100 Soldiers a day across post stay inside during retreat or duck for cover in their car their actions impact them and their leadership. Their actions are not appropriate. If one Soldier broadcasts their actions and it is picked up by major news media outlets it is a bad day for a lot of people. Should the command impose UCMJ? That is up to the commander and he/she should consider the age, maturity, experience, and performance of this Soldier. This Soldier definitely needs to learn from this experience, how much punishment or corrective training she receives should depend upon what is appropriate to ensure she understands that regardless of the situation she is responsible for her actions. Perhaps the biggest lesson here should be KEEP YOUR PRIVATE LIFE PRIVATE! and understand that your actions when broadcasted in Social Media can have a tremendous impact upon you and others! Perhaps a portion of her corrective training could be, if the Soldier truly feels remorse, allow the Soldier to broadcast a heartfelt apology for her actions along with whatever action the chain of command believes appropriate. I imagine the Soldier would have to volunteer to make the broadcast as I do not believe the command could order that under corrective training!


  • Tim W


    Unlike a poor performance counseling statement, content you post on social media does not “go away”. Just deleting a post you no longer want folks to see does not ensure it is truly gone. You cannot scrub the internet of your pics, blogs, or alcohol induced tirades.

    While the Army now embraces Soldier’s individualism, they also want you to think before posting. A couple suggestions…
    1. Don’t post under the influence or anyone without clothing
    2. Ask yourself why you are posting, what’s the purpose?
    3. Post only to sites you visit regularly
    4. Would your immediate family approve of it?

    The shelf life for a poor social media posting is much longer than you think.

  • MSG O



    Great Article. These situations happen often. Portraying unprofessional Values is a representation of not only you but the Military as well.

  • Anonymous


    Great article! Social Media is very dangerous and can end careers quickly not only in the Military but in the Civilian world as well. Great Article to share with folks…thanks for sharing!!

  • Part Time Commander


    I’m on Facebook every day to promote my businesses and websites. I have lots of friends who are Soldiers, many of whom have a photo of them in uniform as their profile pic.

    You would be absolutely amazed at how many of these Soldiers talk religion and politics on Facebook. They mock the President, politicians, and talk about some CRAZY things going on in their personal life. They talk about how much booze they drank last night, who they “hooked up” with over the weekend, and much more.

    While I think it’s good to have a private life, and have your own set of beliefs, I do not believe you should express those things on Facebook at any time WHILE you are in the military. It’s just not worth risking your career for something stupid. Keep your personal life to yourself or wait until you retire and then speak your mind.

    Just my two cents.

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