See new policy, act like a professional with social media

By Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr. USMA Superintendent

October 20th, 2016 | News, News and Features

Last week, I signed USMA Policy 281-02, which establishes United States Military Academy policy for professional online conduct and social media use. Please take a moment to read and familiarize yourselves with this policy, as it applies to every member of the West Point team regarding appropriate online behavior.

Social media can be a powerful and positive tool. It’s a good way to stay in touch with family and friends, share information and even be a source of encouragement for others. It allows us to share the West Point story to a global audience in a transparent manner.

But, there’s an ugly side to it, where individuals take part in inappropriate, disrespectful and potentially harmful interactions online, hiding behind the sense of anonymity and lack of accountability that social media provides.

These online interactions include harassment, bullying, hazing, stalking, discrimination, retaliation or any other types of misconduct that undermine dignity and respect. Just as our behavior in public is a reflection on West Point, the Corps of Cadets and the Army, so is our behavior online.

Unfortunately, social media allows us to live with a set of values online that is different from the values we would live in public.

In my opinion, postings of this type are cowardly and contrary to who we are as leaders within the public domain. It is not what America expects of us as leaders who are entrusted to lead America’s sons and daughters 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in the most difficult of circumstances.

Character and integrity don’t have on/off switches. We do not have the liberty to live and act one way in public and live and act an entirely different way in private.

Social media is not private. Anything posted online has the potential to “go viral” in mere minutes and affect the public’s perception. We’ve seen many examples, both good and bad, where one post or tweet has resulted in widespread coverage that has cast either a positive or negative light on us.

Regardless of privacy settings or posting anonymously, anything posted or uploaded to social media can eventually be traced.

As members of the profession of arms, insubordination or disrespecting your chain of command is unacceptable behavior. In addition, participating in or condoning online harassment, bullying, hazing, stalking, discrimination, victim blaming, retaliation or any other types of misconduct that undermine dignity and respect will not be tolerated.

Under this policy, anyone who participates in or condones this behavior may be subject to disciplinary action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice or other administrative actions.

You should know that we will do everything within our power to investigate and take appropriate action, including appropriate sanctions, for such behavior.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you can’t stand in front of a group of people and say something out loud, then don’t say it from behind a screen by posting it on social media. It’s unprofessional, and shows both a lack of leadership and character.

If you participate in this manner, you are nothing more than the rest of the den of cowards who hide behind anonymity with values that do not define who we are as an institution.

I would also encourage you to be a responsible bystander. When you observe disrespectful or irresponsible behavior, challenge it, and report it to your chain of command, company respect officer or company tactical officer.

I’m counting on each and every one of us to hold ourselves and each other accountable and set the standard for appropriate and acceptable behavior on social media.

Let’s work together to protect each other and retain a culture of professionalism; both off- and online.


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