Military members: Freedom of speech, social media

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jenifer Piovesan
  • U.S. Air Force Warfare Center Judges Advocate
NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. - In today's society of social media, an individual can post a statement on the internet and it will likely be seen by hundreds of viewers within minutes.

As military members, however, we should always question how statements we post on-line can negatively impact our careers in the armed forces.

There is no question military members have the right to freedom of speech, but it is somewhat diminished from that of our civilian counterparts.

Although the courts have not clearly explained why service members have a diminished right to free speech, it's clear that there must be a balance between the service member's right to freedom of speech and the good order and discipline of the military.

Some forms of speech are deemed unprotected in both the civilian and military community, which means the speech can be freely regulated and punished. For instance, fighting words, obscenity and dangerous speech are all types of speech that have not been afforded constitutional protections. In the military, dangerous speech includes speech that interferes with the military mission or affects morale and discipline.

It is clear the interests of the military outweigh any type of unprotected speech, and a member who demonstrates such types of speech should be punished appropriately.

Even if speech is protected, a commander may still limit the speech if it is in the best interest of the mission, obedience, unity, order and discipline. It is important to note that when seeking discipline for inappropriate speech, leadership must remember to treat each individual fairly and in accordance with policy and regulations.

Just remember, when posting comments to a social media network, take a moment to think about what you are posting and ensure your post does not affect the morale or good order and discipline of the armed forces.