Commentary

Social Media Politicizing Military, Study Finds

The death of the Republic comes by a thousand cuts and social media seems to be involved in a good half of them.

In the latest sign of doom doom doom, a new study by researchers at the National Defense University, first reported by Politico, found that growing adoption of social media is bringing more and more politics into the ranks of the U.S. armed forces, including overt expressions of support or opposition to political figures – something that’s generally been a “no-no” in the military.

The researchers surveyed a group of more than 500 cadets and active duty officers at West Point about their use of Facebook and Twitter, and found that three quarters of respondents could recall their peers or superiors sharing content expressing a strong political viewpoint on these social media platforms.

Meanwhile, one third of respondents said fellow officers frequently endorse or attack specific candidates, as well as urging their networks to engage on specific issues.

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While military personnel clearly have a right to their political opinions, they are traditionally expected to keep them to themselves while they are in uniform, so these results represent a departure from past norms.

Politico quoted one of the lead researchers, Col. Heidi Urben, who warns, “Such behavior threatens to erode the trust in which the public holds the military, leading to it being viewed as just another interest group.”

The Department of Defense’s general guidelines for active duty military personnel regarding politics are fairly unambiguous.

“Per longstanding DoD policy, active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities… Therefore, while these employees may ‘follow’ ‘friend’ or ‘like’ a political party or candidate running for partisan office, they may not post links to, ‘share’ or ‘re-tweet’ comments or tweets from the Facebook page or Twitter account of a political party or candidate running for partisan office."

The military elite displays a pronounced rightward tendency. Overall, 54% of the officers surveyed identified as Republicans, versus 24% who call themselves Democrats, and 14% for independents.

However the proportion who consider themselves conservative has decreased markedly, from 65% in the previous survey to 47% today; meanwhile 32% consider themselves moderate and 22% liberal.

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