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Knowing the rules before you post: a social media guide for personal accounts

Finding a work life balance is critical and at the end of the day we all have an identity that extends beyond the uniform that we wear. Airmen need to use caution when using social media to prevent getting sucked into online controversies that could have damaging effects on the credibility of the Air Force and their career. (U.S. Air Force photo Illustration by Master Sgt. Eric Amidon)

Finding a work life balance is critical and at the end of the day we all have an identity that extends beyond the uniform that we wear. Airmen need to use caution when using social media to prevent getting sucked into online controversies that could have damaging effects on the credibility of the Air Force and their career. (U.S. Air Force photo Illustration by Master Sgt. Eric Amidon)

MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL AIR RESERVE STATION, MINN. -- Finding a work life balance is critical and at the end of the day we all have an identity that extends beyond the uniform that we wear. Often we enjoy sharing who we are with friends and family through the use of social media, but how much information is too much and where is the line between personal identity and misrepresentation?

While there is nothing wrong with using social media as a way to connect with those we care about, what we post and how we post can have significant impacts to not only ourselves and our careers, but also our units and the mission. Knowing the rules and knowing how to post information responsibly is critical both at home and at work.

Early this year, Air Force Instruction 35-107 was completely revamped to include two new chapters specifically dedicated social media use. While many of us understand how these rules apply to official organizations, many of us often overlook how they impact each and every one of our own personal accounts.

Chapter five of AFI 35-107 is the Personal Use Social Media Guidance, below highlights the new changes and includes some additional best practices:

• What you say has limits: According to AFI 35-107, “the Air Force views personal Web sites and weblogs positively, and it respects the right of Airmen to use them as a medium of self-expression. However, all Airmen (Military and Civilian) have limitations of free speech. In addition to specific ethics and Hatch Act limitations, civilians are prohibited from discussing the intricacies of the Air Force and the Department of Defense. Active duty members as members of the Air Force, Airmen must abide by certain restrictions to ensure good order and discipline. All Airmen are on duty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and their actions on and off duty are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Airmen should also remember OPSEC when posting information in the digital environment.”

• It’s okay to repost: Airmen are free to repost publicly released information on their personal social media accounts. This means that it’s okay to share with friends and family posts that have been published by an official Air Force social media page. We want to encourage Airmen to share the Air Force story and all of the great work that we do. Just make sure the information you are reposting has been publicly released. When in doubt check with your Wing Public Affairs office.

• Think before you post: Airmen should use their best judgment, remembering that there are always consequences to what is written. If they’re about to post something that is questionable and may reflect negatively on the Air Force, they should review this and other relevant guidance thoroughly.

• Ask Public Affairs: If still unsure, and the post is about the Air Force, they should discuss the proposed post with their supervisor or the Public Affairs office. Ultimately, however, Airmen are solely responsible for what they post.

• Be respectful: Do not post any defamatory, libelous, vulgar, obscene, abusive, profane, threatening, hateful, racially, ethnically, or otherwise offensive or illegal information or material.

• Need to have permission: Do not post any information or other material protected by copyright without the permission of the copyright owner.

• Watch out for trademarks: Do not use any words, logos or other marks that would infringe upon the trademark, service mark, certification mark, or other intellectual property rights of the owners of such marks without the permission of such owners.

• Don’t infringe on others: Do not post any information that would infringe upon the proprietary, privacy, or personal rights of others.

• Classified and sensitive information is a no no: Do not post any non-public information (as defined in 5 CFR 2635. 703) this includes but not limited to classified or sensitive information, unless such release is a protected disclosure per an appropriate Whistleblower statute.

• Save the impersonations for the comedians: Do not forge or otherwise manipulate identifiers in posts in an attempt to disguise, impersonate, or otherwise misrepresent their identity or affiliation with any other person or entity.

• Beware of service affiliated fund raising: Airmen cannot use their service affiliation for fundraising purposes on personal social media accounts except for Office of Personnel Management approved fundraisers such as the Combined Federal Campaign and the Air Force Associations.

• Just don’t use government email: Airmen should not use government email accounts to establish personal accounts. Additionally, Airmen cannot invite other government employees to participate on social media accounts via a government email address.

• Work positions have limitations: Employees should not use their official position on personal accounts unless it’s a biographical detailed accompanied by biographical facts including official photos. Unfortunately, LinkedIn falls into the social media spectrum, so be mindful the type of verbiage and information you use and share on those types of sites. When in doubt ask your Public Affairs and Legal office for guidance.

• Be careful with political activity: All political activity on personal pages must be in compliance with the guidance provided by the Office of Special Counsel.

Now I know what some of you are thinking, “Staff Sgt. Jacobs, these rules take all the fun away from social media!” I know, this puts a damper on my ability to take copyrighted Spiderman clips and turn them into memes at the expense of my friends too. But keep in mind that as service members we represent the one percent of Americans who the rest of the ninety-nine percent look up to. As members of the armed forces it is our civic duty to represent our country at the highest standards and not misrepresent ourselves, our country or the positions we hold through the misuse of social media. By abiding by social media regulations we can ensure the integrity of the Air Force Reserve and ourselves. Take pride in that and take pride in the fact that we do hold ourselves to a higher standard both in-person and online.

For more information on social media regulations and guidelines visit: http://dodcio.defense.gov/Social-Media/