For the first time ever, the Defense Department has put out social media guidance governing its widespread official accounts, as platforms like Twitter and Facebook are increasingly used to send out messages for both service members and the general public.

At the same time, some mishandling of accounts ― whether that was accidental use or inappropriate posting on an account affiliated with a command ― has gotten the services and DoD in hot water.

The new policy, released Monday, discourages military public affairs personnel from editorializing official social media posts. And even though it’s been common practice in the past, the new policy lets all spokespeople know that simply throwing “views do not reflect DoD” in a private account bio is not enough.

“If social media is mismanaged or mishandled, the U.S. Government’s reputation with the American public; relationships with interagency, international, State, local, and tribal entities; military operations; and reputation for a high ethical and professional standard may be compromised,” according to the policy. DoD social media content can be consumed by any audience, intended or unintended, foreign or domestic.”

Public affairs personnel running official accounts are discouraged from posting or commenting anything that isn’t a vetted release, staying away from any flair.

Posts must be accurate, appropriate, timely, written with appropriate tone and approved for public release, according to the guidance.

For public affairs officers who also post in a private capacity, their profiles can’t indicate what they do professionally, lest their private posts be misconstrued as endorsed by DoD.

“DoD personnel must ensure that their personal social media accounts avoid use of DoD titles, insignia, uniforms, or symbols in a way that could imply DoD sanction or endorsement of the content,” the policy reads. “Where confusion or doubt is likely to arise regarding the personal nature of social media activities, personnel are encouraged to include a disclaimer clarifying that their social media communications reflect only their personal views and do not necessarily represent the views of their agency or the United States.”

For all other personnel, accounts should make clear they their posts don’t represent DoD. This can be done through a disclaimer.

“The views and opinions presented herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of DoD or its Components. Appearance of, or reference to, any commercial products or services does not constitute DoD endorsement of those products or services,” the policy offers as an example. “The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute DoD endorsement of the linked websites, or the information, products or services therein.”

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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