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Marine Corps inspector general orders crackdown on social media threats

Jul. 23, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
This is an image from Just the Tip, of the Spear, a Facebook page that drew criticism from women, lawmakers and Marine officials. The Marine Corps intends to crack down on Marines who post offensive or threatening messages on social media sites.
This is an image from Just the Tip, of the Spear, a Facebook page that drew criticism from women, lawmakers and Marine officials. The Marine Corps intends to crack down on Marines who post offensive or threatening messages on social media sites. ()
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A handful of crude and misogynistic Facebook pages run by Marines drew the ire of a congresswoman and made national news this year, prompting vows from Commandant Gen. Jim Amos that Marines would police their own when it came to abusive Web content.

Although Marine officials have said Internet anonymity poses a challenge when prosecuting website posters who undermine the service’s values, a new memo from the Marine Corps Inspector General’s office indicates that they are making this issue a priority.

According to the memo sent by Maj. Gen. Juan Ayala to inspectors general around the Corps on June 30, any threats communicated on social media by active-duty or reserve Marines will represent an immediate trigger for action. Threats or any other content that is “in clear violation of federal law” will be referred to law enforcement, wrote Ayala, who has since taken a new job as the head of Marine Corps Installations Command.

If active-duty or reserve Marines post content that is “patently lewd, lascivious, misogynistic, obscene, pornographic, supremacist, disrespectful in nature” or discrediting to the Marine Corps, the matter will be referred to the Marine’s command, Ayala wrote. From June 2010 to April 2013, five Marines received administrative punishment related to objectionable online content, according to a letter written by Amos in late May. With the action points in the IG memo, that figure may increase quickly.

Ayala said the Marine Corps would work directly with social media sites to target Marines posting abusive content under cover of anonymity. If Web posts are threatening, illegal or clearly objectionable, he said, they will be referred back to the hosting site “with the recommendation to delete the offending material.”

According to Capt. Eric Flanagan, a Marine Corps spokesman, there have been about 170 social media-related complaints to the inspector general’s office since 2009. The issue was spotlighted this summer, when Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., sent a letter to Amos, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and the Defense Department’s principal deputy inspector general, Lynne Halbrooks, demanding Marines’ abusive content be addressed, particularly on Facebook, where sites dedicated to mocking female Marines or non-infantry troops accrued thousands of followers.

In a May letter to Speier, Amos suggested he might go so far as to prohibit Marines from visiting certain sites in an effort to root out social media abuse. While that step has yet to be taken, Ayala said the Marine Corps would continue to use all of its available resources to fight conduct that is “polar opposite to our core values.”

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