Change 4, dated 20 May 2008
Following are some rules of engagement that I adhere to in my blog, and might be of help to fellow bloggers in uniform.
1. Know the rules.
Before you start blogging, familiarize yourself with the rules your command, service and the DoD have laid down on how you can express yourself:
This is not an authoritative list. Other instructions may apply, so don’t assume you know everything there is to know by reviewing these. If you don’t understand the rules, and since many of them are written by JAGs and PAOs this is not uncommon, ask a JAG or PAO for interpretation or guidance before you post.
2. If you’re not sure if you should post something, don’t.
Naval aviators have a saying about landing on an aircraft carrier: “if there’s any doubt, there is no doubt.” What that means is, if you aren’t sure you can safely land that aircraft, there is no doubt what you should do – wave off and try again or divert to land. The same is true about blog posts. If you think a post might get you in trouble or compromise operational details, or you’re not sure, don’t post it. Save a copy on you hard drive and think about it for a while, let someone you trust review it or just forget about it altogether, but don’t screw yourself or your fellow bloggers.
3. Don’t assume your readers are all your friends.
No matter how hard you try, it is nearly impossible to remain anonymous if you blog for any length of time. Inside your command, your info systems geeks regularly review the firewall logs to see if users are accessing proxies, porn, racist and other forbidden materials. Sooner or later someone will notice that you’re blogging. Outside your command, as the posts stack up and your archive grows, somebody will be able to put the pieces together and figure out with some certainty where you work and possibly even who you are. Once that happens, if you’re posting things you shouldn’t, your commanding officer or senior enlisted advisor, or even worse an IG, may get an e-mail complaining about something you’ve posted. And if you don’t know the rules and adhere to them, this can be very, very bad.
4. Assume people that wish to do harm to the United States are reading your blog.
Our enemies are not stupid, and some of them are busily collecting information from blogs every day. Don’t believe it? Read this from the National Post of Canada:
According to a Chinese spying manual obtained by The Washington Times in 2000, more than 80% of all Chinese espionage focuses on open-source material obtained from government and private-sector information. The remaining 20% is gathered through illicit means from scientists at meetings, through documents supplied by agents or through electronic eavesdropping, bribes or computer hacking.
Your blog is an “open source”, so be careful. Also, remember that while some of the things you post are completely legal, they may still have propaganda value among people with agendas, like some members of the media, certain political activists, terrorists and hostile governments.
5. Be careful what you say about your superiors – even the civilian ones.
Since someone that doesn’t like you or your opinions is probably reading your blog, watch what you say or imply about the people for whom you work. This includes those people in suits waaaay at the top of your chain of command, and may include other prominent elected officeholders. UCMJ articles 88, 89, 92, 117, 133 and 134, as well as DoD Directive 1344.10, apply to things you write as well as things you say. The warning in the old poem, Laws of the Navy, still rings true:
Take heed what you say of your seniors,
Be your words spoken softly or plain,
Let a bird of the air tell the matter,
And so shall ye hear it again.
6. Just because you think it’s funny or interesting, doesn’t mean everyone will.
Not long ago a soldier in Iraq posted a picture of himself on the can, taking a dump. He thought it was funny, but his CO thought it was an action that brought discredit to the armed forces and awarded him non-judicial punishment for his transgression. Remember rule #2?
In addition, you’re not just a blogger, your an unofficial representative of your nation, service, unit and buddies – don’t screw it up!
7. Don’t use your blog to circumvent your chain of command.
Sounds like a no brainer, but someone out there will one day try this if it hasn’t already happened. Your blog should not be the first place to air complaints about favoritism, harassment, fraternization, fraud, waste or abuse. If it’s really a serious problem and your chain of command knows about it and doesn’t appear to care, each and every service has an inspector general that can be contacted to file a grievance that your command can’t easily squash.
One other note on this: If you have an interesting story about one of the above items of dirty laundry that you have a good reason to post, be sure to edit carefully to protect the privacy of everyone involved, especially the victim, and the reputation of the command. There are few things worse than being a normal, decent, hard-working member of an organization and getting a bad reputation because someone else screwed up.
8. Be clear about what’s your opinion and what’s official policy.
If you’ve spent more than about a week in uniform, you probably want to rant about a decision of your chain of command, parent service or national political or military policy. Stating your personal opinions is usually fine, and can be damn entertaining for your reader if you know how to do it right, but make sure it’s obvious that you’re stating just your personal opinions. Don’t pretend to represent anyone other than you, and don’t name names, appear to impugn the character or question the motives of your seniors. The truth of your comments may not keep you out of trouble as it would a civilian.
9. Having a “private” blog may not protect you.
When you create a blog, some providers will ask you if you want your work to be public or remain private. Making it private may reduce the likelyhood of running afoul of military policy or procedures, but it probably won’t completely protect you. When you choose to create a private blog, usually that means the provider won’t advertise the address of your site, but anyone who has the address can view it without any problems. And all it takes is one friend of a friend of a friend to post a link somewhere and presto, you’ve been outed. Even password protecting your site probably won’t provide the level of protection needed to keep you immune, so just assume your work is public at all times.
10. Resolve disputes about postings at the lowest level.
If, as a milblogger, you come across another milblogger that’s posting things you think are questionable, approach the blogger with your concerns first. If your concerns are not addressed to your satisfaction, raise your concerns — in private — to other, more senior and experienced milbloggers and get their thoughts and guidance on how to proceed. If you ultimately decide you want to drop a dime on a blogger, do it at the lowest level possible. Start with the blogger’s Senior Enlisted Advisor or Executive Officer and give them the opportunity to put the lid back on the jar first. Making an initial report to higher levels of command or an IG only invites a lot of bureaucratic overreaction, hate and discontent.
11. If someone challenges some of your content, take it seriously.
If someone suggests you as a blogger are breaking the rules, take them seriously until you’re certain you know what their point is, what rules actually apply, and what the rules actually say. If it can’t be resolved immediately and you’re uncertain about the appropriateness of a post, push it back into the “draft” locker and get a legal opinion. After all, the advice of a JAG is free for military members, so it won’t cost you anything but time.
12. Ignore the rules at your own peril.
As mentioned previously, there are a myriad of ways you can run afoul of your boss and the system with a blog. Whether you’re working a blog that’s unregistered, posting information that should be kept private, or airing your opinions about people that you work for, commanding officers have a lot of tools at their disposal to make your life unpleasant. And they frequently don’t have to worry about the same legal nuisances civilian authorities do, like rules of evidence or right to legal counsel. In addition, if you do something that makes it difficult for the rest of us to blog, you may find your name flying around the Internet with a lot of less than kind sentiments attached.
13. Your status as a retiree may not protect you.
Getting recalled to be punished is a longshot, I know, but retirees are still subject to the UCMJ. To wit, the case of Sheldon G. Hooper:
Selden G. Hooper (25 December 1904 – 7 February 1976) was the only Admiral of the United States Navy to be convicted by court-martial.Hooper was the commissioning commanding officer of the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Uhlmann (DD-687).In U.S. V. Hooper, 26 CMR 417 (CMA, 1958), Hooper was tried by general court-martial for sodomy, conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the Armed Forces, and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. Hooper had retired as a Rear Admiral in 1950, and the acts for which he was tried were committed after he had retired. The defence questioned the military court’s jurisdiction, but the court explained that “retired personnel are a part of the land or naval forces.” The military retiree, then, is not simply a civilian. The court held that the admiral was “a part of the military forces of this country.” He was described as “an officer of the Navy of the United States, entitled to wear the uniform and to draw pay as such.” He was convicted and sentenced to dismissal and total forfeitures. [emphasis added]Hooper was the only flag officer of the US Navy to be convicted by court-martial, and strictly speaking, the only Navy flag officer to ever be tried by court-martial. In 1995 Everett L. Greene was acquitted of sexual harassment and other related charges; he had been selected for promotion to Rear Admiral but was still a Captain when he was tried.
Again, it’s not very likely, but there’s no sense in making yourself a test case is there?
14. Take charge of your blog and all the web surfers in view.
You are responsible not only for the stuff you put on your blog, but also controlling what goes on there. If a commenter submits a comment that clearly violates the ROE, or makes personal threats against someone else, hold the comment in moderation and inquire as to the commenter’s intentions. If the commenter doesn’t want to clarify or modify their comments, delete the comment as you think appropriate. In short, don’t let other people turn your blog into a problem for Americans, you or anyone else.
15. Be careful about using the name of your command and your official title.
Identifying yourself by advertising the name of your command and the job you perform is an express ticket to getting attention. Unfortunatly, the attention may not be the kind you wanted. Ordinary readers aren’t well versed on how to differentiate between an official site and a personal site belonging to a service member as an individual. This goes hand-in-hand with rule #8. In addition, if the name of the command is displayed prominently or used in the title, you or your commanding officer may end up having to answer a lot of questions about the nature of the site. To avoid any problems with this completely, the best solution is to not name names. Period.
16. Know the rules, but share your story.
Lots of people out there want to read your story about life, triumph and loss, so don’t let the rules completely prevent you from telling it. Edit your story carefully, get someone else’s opinion or delay publication to stay within the rules, but put it out there for others to read. If you’ve got a really great story submit it to the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress.
Stick to these rules and hopefully we milbloggers can all remain one great, big, happy, self-regulating family.
Terms and conditions:
I. If you agree and comply with these rules, join the MilBlogs ROE Project and spread the word!
II. These rules are “open source”, so if you think I’ve missed something, or allowed my fingers to type before my brain was engaged, counterbattery shots should be directed to sailor(at)yankeesailor(dot)us.
III. These haven’t been reviewed by a JAG or PAO, or adopted anywhere as official policy to my knowledge, so they may be incomplete or inaccurate here and there (hmmm…that sounds a lot like rule #8).