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Corps mulls making some social media pages off-limits to Marines

Jun. 5, 2013 - 07:47AM   |  
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The commandant of the Marine Corps said the service is looking into making certain websites and social media pages off-limits to Marines in response to controversy over objectionable images troops are posting to the web.

In a May 29 letter to Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., Gen. Jim Amos denounced Facebook pages and other social media postings that “denigrate women in the Marine Corps.”

“We share your indignation; I am responding on behalf of the Secretary of Defense,” he wrote. “These depictions are neither official Marine Corps communications nor reflective of the U.S. Marine Corps’ sentiments toward women.”

Amos wrote in response to a May 8 letter from Speier that cited popular “humor” pages populated by active Marines and veterans, such as “F’n Wook” and “Just The Tip, Of The Spear,” as demonstrating a culture of misogyny prevalent in the Marine Corps.

Among the images from the sites that Speier included in her letter were a photo of a woman with a black eye and the caption, “She burned the bacon — only once,” and another depicting a female Marine with another Marine in a chokehold, captioned, “This is my rape face.”

Some Marines have come forward to say they were harassed or threatened by users of the pages after they protested certain images or comments that appeared on them.

Although Facebook shut down a number of the pages Speier named in the swirl of publicity following her letter, at least three of most popular have since come back online.

Social media is a valuable communication medium for the Marine Corps, Amos said, but it has provided opportunities for abuse. Since 2009, he said, the Marine Corps inspector general has received 166 complaints regarding social media misuse; 14 remain open. These account for just under 2.5 percent of the total number of complaints received in that time frame, he said.

From June 2010 to April 2013, Amos cited cases of five Marines who received administrative punishment for posting online content disparaging to women or discrediting to the Marine Corps.

In addition to social media guidance published by the Corps in 2010 and 2011, Amos said the Marine Corps uses Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the Criminal Investigative Division of the Provost Marshal, the Inspector General’s office, and local commands to crack down on abusive content. The Marines Corps Cybersecurity Assessment Team assesses “a discreet number” of social media sites weekly to guard against users impersonating senior officials to protect the reputation of the Corps and of individuals, Amos said, and the Marine Corps Trademark and Licensing office also monitors unauthorized use of insignia and logos on the web.

Now, Amos said, the Corps is looking into making certain websites off-limits to Marines — just as it does with physical businesses and establishments determined by the Corps to engage in illegal or abusive practices. He said the Corps was looking into Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board Procedures to see if such a move would be legal and effective.

Many Marine Corps installations have their own off-limits lists, which include establishments ranging from brothels to price-gouging car dealerships.

Despite all the resources deployed to combat abusive content online, Amos said the Marine Corps struggled with challenges.

“The anonymous nature of social media, the use of online pseudonyms, and the magnitude of available sites present key challenges to curtailing inappropriate postings,” he said. “The potential for inappropriate or service discrediting Internet postings extends beyond a handful of sites like Facebook, Tumblr, MySpace, and Youtube, spanning across the breadth of public expression and commerce at large.”

He called for legislation that would provide Marines with “adequate tools” to successfully curtail social media abuse.

In response to Amos’ letter, Speier appeared to rebuff his suggestion that Congress act to help the Marine Corps address its social media problem.

“The Marine Corps must do the right thing now and stop their own who practice the worst forms of hatred,” she said in a statement. “The letter from General Amos offers sequestration as a reason for inaction. The Commander-in-Chief has spoken. Suggesting that misconduct cannot be addressed because of sequestration is frankly unacceptable.”

The release of the letter came as military service chiefs, including Amos, appeared Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee to discuss the prevalence of rape and sexual assault in the armed forces.

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