April 26, 2012 at 12:59 am #159502
26 year old United States Marine is about to receive an other-than-honorable discharge from military service for posting disparaging remarks about President Obama on Facebook. Read the Full Story Here.
“How can some words that I wrote on Facebook outweigh my 9 years of service?” Stein asked in court on April 13.
There are some interesting facts reported:
- He posted these comments on a page he created.
- There doesn’t appear to be any clear social media policy in place to spell out the rules in this environment.
- He had his post “up on the page” for five minutes, then took it down – just long enough for someone to snap a screen shot of it and send it to his supervisor.
- There is a directive that says armed forces members can express their personal opinions, but not as representatives of the armed forces.
- This soldier will lose all benefits and will be followed for the rest of his life with an other-than-honorable discharge from the Marine Corps.
Sgt. Gary Stein says he wishes he could take it back, but the die has been cast. He’s going to have to live with his decision and the actions he took via social media.
Chris Dorobek and I talked about the discharged marine on the DorobekINSIDER program.
What are your thoughts about this case?
Should the US military (or any employer) be able to discharge a service member for a critical comment made on a Facebook page?
What impact might this case have on social media policy?
On social media itself?
April 26, 2012 at 12:22 pm #159546
There are actually two questions here which only those familiar with the military will fully understand.
First, while the Constitution gurantees our right to free speech, this just means we cannot be prosocuted, fined or jailed. No one has a right to any particular job and an employer is free to fire, or in the case of the military decline to reenlist, any individual for any reason. The soldier knew he was treading on dangerous ground and knew he might be kicked out for doing so. The military places nonpunative bars to reenlistment for everything from overweight, pt failures, visable tatatoos etc to the CO just having a bad day. They also not uncommonly make nonpunative discharges for the good of the service for similar reasons. You play with fire, you get burnt, you have no legitimate complaint.
Second, this was a punative discharge of a Marine whose enlistment was up in July anyway. A punative discharge for this type of activity does tread heavily on First Amendment ground. This is no longer a case of removing an individual soldier to limit the impact they may have on the service. It becomes a case of sending a message to all soldiers everywhere to drink the kool aide or suffer disproportional consequences. A punative discharge is in essence a criminal conviction and imposes enormous post enlistment consequences. Sgt Stein can appeal to have his discharge reclassified but these appeals are almost never successful. Punative discharges are ment to send the message that the military cannot only kick you out, they can kick you when your down, even if they lack a case that would stand up in court. Unfortunately, this one also sends the message that good soldiers who love thier country but have reservations about its leadership should simply keep their heads down, finish out their current enlistments and find employment elsewhere as soon as possible.
Simply put, Gary Stein should have known better than to have operated a political blog and/or facebook site. That was just plain stupid and he has zero right to complain about being forced out of the military for having done so. But the Marin Corps also massively overreacted, created a martyr out of Sgt. Stein and sent a very negative message to all enlisted personnel in all the services. Incredible lack of common sense all the way around.
April 26, 2012 at 12:40 pm #159544
Doris is exploring a similar issue over here:
Question for military folks:
Is this the equivalent of criticizing a commanding officer? Would he have received (are others receiving) a similar punishment for criticizing less highly ranked, but still his superior?
April 26, 2012 at 1:02 pm #159542
Criticizing any commander, regardless of rank, on Facebook is just incredibly stupid. At the very least, it would lead to an uncomfortable conversation with senior NCOs or Officers, possibly while in the front leaning rest or dying cockroach position. It would also likely lead to a less than positive review of the soldier’s fitness for promotion and could lead to a nonpunative discharge. More severe penalties, including punative discharge, would probably be reserved for those who openly, clearly advocated disobeying LAWFUL orders from said commander. Encourgaing soldiers on Facebook not to obey UNLAWFUL orders from a given commander (as SGT Stein clearly did) might walk very close to the line of earning a punative discharge because it implies the commander can be expected to give such orders. Nevertheless it does not cross over the line and almost all commands would probably choose to deal with it in a way that generated less controversy.
April 26, 2012 at 1:28 pm #159540
There is a difference between criticism and insubordination. Someone who says they will not take orders from the Commander In Chief, but whose job is to take orders from the Commander In Chief, should not be serving. That’s just my opinion.
April 26, 2012 at 1:29 pm #159538
What stands out to me is that there is no mention of any attempt to engage in dialogue with the individual, and perhaps temper his comments. It’s not as if the guy was having a press conference, and, after a series of questions and answers, the guy says “Look, I can’t put it any more simply than….(insert offending remark)”. He inserts a quip within a context that seems to bring out the most contextual unawareness in people (i.e., facelessbook), and it is treated as a fait accompli. In conversation, he might have been quite willing to revise his comments to “I’ll do my job, but I have my doubts as to the foresight of our country’s military and foreign policy”. But, sadly, he stated his views in a stronger form, as the kind of outburst one might hear on an AM radio call-in show.
It seems paradoxical to me that we demand blind obedience from our military, while criticizing such obedience in our “enemies”, and while recognizing that the MOST embarrassing or horrific actions that military undertakes were typified by their failure to exercise good judgment. You can’t simultaneously demand good judgment and prohibit soldiers from practicing it. Obviously, any team needs to be cohesive and on-side, but ultimately, the number of steps in the hierarchy that any soldier is removed from the White House are so great that it seems highly unlikely this guy would do anything BUT take a bullet for his comrades and commanding officer, regardless of whatever disdain he feels for the current president. Finally, I think it is only fair to expect that a great many members of the military will have careers that straddle multiple administrations, some of which they entirely agree with, some of which they disagree with intensely. It is probably best for group relations to not express such disagreement in a way that might foster mistrust in the overall willingness of the military to carry out the orders of the White House. But I honesty can’t see it within the culture of the military for any of these people to NOT do their job to the very best of their ability, when it comes to their comrades and immediate command, regardless of what they feel about the executive decisions (or indecision) that established their mission.
Bottom line: People can be FAR more patriotic and cooperative than you think. Don’t be misled by the superficial, or express outrage over the superficial.
April 26, 2012 at 1:58 pm #159536
I mean, the guy called Obama the “domestic enemy” and that he wouldn’t follow his commands. I think it may have been an overreaction only because he deleted the offending comments within minutes, possibly showing that he quickly realized that was a bad idea to post that. But that’s some pretty heavy dissent from within the military.
April 26, 2012 at 7:31 pm #159534
Like Peter started the comment discussion, I think that this is an issue that’s not easily understood by those who haven’t served in the US Military.
Crash course for those who haven’t worn the uniform:
1. Let’s start with the enlisted oath of office:
“I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God” (bold for emphasis here)
In no other profession, not even in public service, do individuals pledge to obey the orders of the President. Even the Officer oath of office does not include such language. You’re not really a member of the Armed Service until you’ve earned the right to take this oath.
2. Take look at USMC policy on what an individual is responsible for: Especially note the “blurring of private and public personas” element. Also, check out the bolded guidance about speaking from your brain, not your emotions when you’re using social media.
3. DODI 1334.10, linked above may start out saying military members have the freedom of speech – – but there’s some pretty explicit “do not do’s” for those engaging in political activity. For example, check out: 4.1.2. A member of the Armed Forces on active duty shall not….(para 18.104.22.168.) Allow or cause to be published partisan political articles, letters, or endorsements signed or written by the member that solicits votes for or against a partisan political party, candidate, or cause. This is distinguished from a letter to the editor as permitted under the conditions noted in subparagraph 22.214.171.124.
Starting the ‘Armed Forces Tea Party’ page seems to violate that in spirit as well as in intent.
4. Go check out the Tea Party page, and read the most current note that’s posted there by who I can only imagine is his attorney. Read the comments posted there – Plenty of those who’ve worn and still wear the uniform have spoken out – this isn’t about social media. It’s about political activity not afforded to him as a military member. It’s violating his oath he took when he earned the title of Marine and got to wear the eagle, globe and anchor.
A Marine should know better.
April 26, 2012 at 8:01 pm #159532
Completely objective and curiosity-driven query: Would declaring “I’ll do whatever they want me to do, because it’s what I agreed to when I signed up, but I think Pres. X is an idiot” fall within the requirements you’ve laid out? Or does it count as “political activity”? It does not make any attempt to influence votes, and certainly does not suggest that the lawful orders of the POTUS would be refused.
FWIW, the most recent Doonesbury strips dip into this territory.
April 26, 2012 at 8:46 pm #159530
It’s true you can get kicked out of the military for just about anything. Unless of course your field is under-manned, then you can’t get out. What this guy did was beyond stupid. He knew the rules when he raised his right hand. I remember when Pres Clinton was in office, there was a group of (Navy?) who turned their back to him when he walked by. There is a photograph of it somewhere in cyberspace. This is silly…..you raised your right hand, you promised, now do you job or get out. Ah, there is the rub. Get out and “do what?” Which brings us back to “why” some join in the first place. It wasn’t to wrap themselves in the flag. It’s the economy. Three hots and a cot and learned job skills. I know many who joined on that premise. Also, the young enlisted with a wife and kids….health insurance. Let’s be real.
This guy was a moron. He broke an oath and now he has to pay the piper. Same with us called the Hatch Act. I delete any/all emails that refer to any election. I don’t respond, I don’t discuss it. Not worth losing my job over. And I certainly don’t use FB for spouting off about work. That is what anonymous names on blogs are for.
April 26, 2012 at 9:40 pm #159528
Military specific issues aside, I’m struck by how a post that was on Facebook for a total of five minutes has propelled this series of events: to include a discharge of a soldier from service, press coverage, and this discussion.
As a former active duty Navy / Marine Corps hybrid (Corpsman) who gave a total of 20 years to the Defense Department, I don’t feel motivated to discuss the actions of this young man – whether he should have said what he said, or whether the Marine Corps over-reacted. This is certainly not the first time a service member put their foot in their mouth.
It’s a great discussion to have and I certainly will encourage it, but I’ve seen too much decision-based evidence making (vs evidence based decision making) (thanks Mark Hammer!) to respond to this story on face value.
The fact that we read about this in the press, that offensive material had only a five minute life span in social media, and that it has touched off such a conflagration of activity and discussion, has me wondering if there’s a side of social media worthy of exploring further.
April 26, 2012 at 11:08 pm #159526
Pete – I can’t help thinking that there could be a precedent in the making here. Maybe a broader definition of what constitutes a work environment (to include using a title in social media spaces), an HR sanctioned survey of employee social media activity when things go bad in the employer/employee relationship, a policy interpretation (and legal treatment) of individual social media behavior, etc.
As military guys, we know the value and necessity of following orders and maintaining discipline. We’ve also known individuals to make bone headed comments in public places – either while under the influence, or out of plain malice. In my experience, those individuals were typically given “extra military instruction;” forced to do some unpleasant thing or another; or at worst, docked pay and/ or privileges. Discharge is not something most commanders jump to – especially in a case of 9 years of honorable service. Unless as you mentioned, a message was being sent.
What really happened here? Not between a loud-mouthed SGT and the Marine Corps, but to employers, the government, and the rest of the social media using population?
What consequences do you think this case may have down the road?
April 27, 2012 at 3:55 am #159524
From what I understood, this wasn’t just one facebook comment – he was organizing a facebook group called “Armed Forces Tea Party”
I think it’s important to recognize this difference.
A few months ago, a reservist showed up at a Ron Paul rally in his uniform, he was reprimanded but nothing serious. If he had gone in civilian clothes, and not ID’d himself as a member of the military – it would have been fine.
This guy was actively campaigning – THAT’S what got him in big trouble. He was also warned prior – and STILL did it. The military is apolitical, and for good reason. Regardless of method, military members can’t campaign as representatives of the military.
April 27, 2012 at 12:36 pm #159522
David — I do not think this particular incedent will have much impact on social media policy. It is way to atypical and reeks of bad PR in a way most social media does not. This case did not just blow up on social media, it was orchastrated. I saw blog posts and commentary on it several weeks ago on REDSTATE where he recieved zero sympathy and much criticism. He and a very small group of similar fanatics have been trolling right wing sites for some time trying unsuccessfully to generate support and generally being disapointed. The most recent article you linked to, reads like something built off a press release and a few followup phone calls rather than original reporting. Essentially, he got into a bad situation using social media and than used social media to make it worse by attracting too much attention to himself. If he had shut up and hired a decent lawyer insted of going online, he might have been allowed to leave at the end of his current enlistment with an honorable discharge and an R-3 reenlistment code. The R-3 would have kept him from reenlisting or joining the reserves but he would have kept his benefits.
While the number of social media users getting into conflicts with their employers is likely to grow exponentially, I am not sure either the social media users or their empolyers will excercise the level of stupidity demonstrated in this case.
If we learn anything from this case it should be the limits of the First Amendment. It protects the individual from criminal prosocution; but not much more. Anything we say or do on social media can, and probably will, be used by other people to form judgements on our character, intelligence etc. This includes current and potential employers. Civil service statutes provide a certain level of protection to government employees but their are limits. Private sector employees have no such protections. So never put anything on social media that you would not sy to the bosses face in front of witnesses. Also, never take a job where you feel so streight jacketed that you become paranoid about self censoring your social media use. Seek a sensible balance that allows you to be honest in your social media use without getting into unnecessary conflict with your employer.
April 27, 2012 at 5:26 pm #159520
Good points. 🙂
April 27, 2012 at 5:48 pm #159518
wow, interesting views..
April 27, 2012 at 5:57 pm #159516
1. The military is a unique situation. The rules are not the same. I don’t think that this case will or should have any direct impact on social media in the non-miltary environment.
2. The US military should be able to discharge a service member for public speech that violates the UCMJ whether online, on TV or radio, or shouted from a soapbox on a street corner. Usually the examples are made of folks that are more senior (Gen MacArthur, or more recently Gen Stan McChrystal), but the internet allows for a wide audience that often magnifies the effect of things that in the past may have had less significance.
3. The USMC does have a Social Media Handbook. Here couple of relevant snips from the section entitled “What Can I Say Online?”
“Avoid offensive and inappropriate behavior that could bring discredit upon yourself and the Marine Corps. This means that you shouldn’t post any anything that is defamatory, libelous, obscene, abusive, threatening, racially or ethnically hateful, or otherwise offensive or illegal information or material.”
“Being a Marine, you are no stranger to rules and regulations. This applies to your conduct online as well. When making personal posts or comments, you must continue to comply with regulations and policies related to personal standards of conduct, operations security (OPSEC), information assurance, personally identifiable information (PII), Joint Ethics Regulations, foreign disclosure regulations, and the release of information to the public. Violations of regulations or policies may result in disciplinary action in accordance with the UCMJ. A list of references to polices and regulations are included at the end of this handbook.”
4. I think this quote from Elbert Hubbard also applies
“If you work for a man, in heavens name work for him! If he pays you wages that supply you your bread and butter, work for him – speak well of him, think well of him, stand by him and stand by the institution he represents. I think if I worked for a man I would work for him. I would not work for him part of the time, and the rest of the time work against him. I would give an undivided service or none. If put to the pinch, an ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness. If you must vilify, condemn and eternally disparage, why, resign your position and when you are on the outside, damn to your heart’s content. But, I pray you, so long as you are part of an institution, do not condemn it. Not that you will injure the institution – not that – but when you disparage the concern of which you are a part, you disparage yourself.” — Elbert Hubbard, 1856-1915
April 28, 2012 at 12:06 pm #159514
Most people do not understand the United States Marine Corp, it is not like the other branches of the military. The higher demand from Marines requires a higher level of discipline. It is perfectly logical. If only civilian jobs came with the intense training and clarity of conduct and policies the USMC comes with.
But Being a Marine comes with two other distinctions besides just being a job. One, it is also the military where you are willing to sacrifice your life for fellow Marines and country. Two, the Marine Corp is one of the more disciplined branches of the military.
When you are talking about defending life and country, the rules and standards have to be higher than most other jobs. And although I have seen many ground up and spit out of the system, it is the best I have experienced. For the most part it is logical and fair. If you disrespect your team leader, NCO, etc. the punishment is proportional. If you dis-respect an officer, much more severe. Commanding general, one must be self destructive. Disrespecting the Commander in chief, the president, definitely don’t deserve to be in the military or receive any benefits from being in. I wouldn’t want to trust my life or my country in the hands of someone who breaks those clear rules of always show respect to your officers, commanders and country.
(Agree or disagree with our president, I always show respect to the person holding the highest office in the country. Even after being out of the USMC fro decades.:>)
Yes the Lean Green Fighting machine does spill some milk, the results of the high standards is we are left with the cream of the crop. You shouldn’t feel sorry for one that didn’t make the cut. Many have been booted out for less, leaving only the best. :>)
April 28, 2012 at 12:14 pm #159512
Semper Fi, Marine.
April 28, 2012 at 12:20 pm #159510
Thanks for sharing from the USMC Social Media Handbook. I wasn’t aware that it existed.
Great quote from Elbert Hubbard!
Do you believe employers use Facebook or other social media to screen, hire or fire employees?
I wonder if anyone has explicit policies that cover the use of social media for such purposes.
April 30, 2012 at 3:17 pm #159508
Derek James FarquharParticipant
It was also about other things he did
May 1, 2012 at 8:05 pm #159506
I don’t have any sympathy for this now-former Marine. Like some others who’ve been prosecuted for refusing deployment orders, citing personal beliefs that current President is in office illegally, he violated UCMJ, and fairly passionately, it seems. By dragging it out and not accepting that it was a violation, he dug himself a bigger hole. If he ignored orders from his chain of command, that was even more UCMJ digging. We’re all told when we enter the military that our rights are not strictly Constitutional-based. Even for regular folks, people forget that rights are not absolute. With rights come responsibility.
May 30, 2012 at 10:01 pm #159504
I think this is true, Derek. There is more to this story than what we saw in the press – as is usually the case.
Unfortunately, the link between Facebook and a discharge is pretty clear.
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