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While it is to no one’s surprise that social media literacy has been a large issue topic for many Americans recently, people—especially service members—need to be more cognizant about what they are posting online and how truly confidential those posts are. The narrative has shifted over the years from having social media be a place online to discuss casual topics while remaining anonymous, to being intertwined in our nation’s mainstream news and media outlets. With this false sense of security, many people have had their careers significantly damaged through apps like these. The biggest offender of this is Snapchat, where users fall under the assumption that being notified of when their content is saved will prevent people from actually saving and sharing any inappropriate content they share. Any sort of inappropriate behavior on these apps can be detrimental to anyone’s career, especially to military members, where there are certain traditions and behaviors that are required to be upheld in and outside their service. If any of these activities or actions do end up going viral, it will be a difficult challenge for a service member to salvage their military career.
One of the biggest pitfalls that a military member could fall into would be having the assumption that Snapchat is a safe place to post or send what some would consider lewd or inappropriate content. As mentioned before, Snapchat’s “allure” is that you can’t screenshot or save any material sent or received without notifying the other party. This has led to people adopting the assumption that all things sent and seen, are gone forever. This is simply not the case, as things sent—such as explicit and lewd photos—can be photographed by another camera and sent to a different device and go viral. Many military members have fallen into this pitfall and have had their graphic photos go viral and had their careers destroyed. However, it’s not just lewd photos that can be secretly saved. Other things such as conversations can be screenshotted by separate devices and produced as exhibits or submitted as evidence of things like racism, sexism, bullying, or other unbecoming behavior.
Going along with the previous, another pitfall that many service members fall into is making public disclosures of what is believed to be private conduct. The misuse of social media can be a slippery slope for many service members, as you are expected and held to act to a higher standard than most civilians. While the lines for what is considered safe and unsafe to post are vague, and with the discussions of censorship still remaining at large, the best way to police yourself on what content you choose to send should be is to ask yourself how would your superiors react to seeing your activity. Things such as complaining how much you hate your job, leaking confidential material about the military, or curating obscene photography is a surefire way to end up facing a criminal prosecution, court-martial, or administrative separation (ADSEP). Engaging in activity like this not only paints a bad picture of yourself, but for the branch you serve as well.
Nothing done on social media or via electronic apps is truly private. Even if you post through private or anonymous accounts, your actions can and will still end up being linked back to you. You have to remain prudent in order to prevent your career from being destroyed by your social media activity. This means double checking what you post for any inappropriate or controversial content and if so, thinking to yourself, “Is it worth my career over posting this?” With military members being expected to hold themselves to a higher standard, you need to remain cognizant of your social media footprint while enjoying social media.