Friday, July 7, 2023

Political activities in the age of social media

War on the Rocks has a really smart op-ed by John Childress, Dave Richardson and Heidi Urben on the urgent need to update the Defense Department directive on political activities of military personnel. Here's how they set the stage:

When the Department of Defense last updated its directive that regulates the political activities of servicemembers, the social media platforms TikTok, Instagram, and WhatsApp had not yet been created. Twitter was two years old, and Facebook had only been open to the public for 18 months. The current directive was published exactly two weeks after Super Tuesday in the 2008 presidential primaries, a time when political polarization was starting to gain more attention on the national landscape. As the Department of Defense wrestles with how to preserve the military’s nonpartisanship in what is clearly now an exceptional period of polarization, it relies on an outdated directive that fails to address the contemporary challenges the military services face regarding partisan political speech and behavior by those in uniform. 

It is critical that the Department of Defense develop and publish a significant revision to the outdated directive that currently guides the political activities of U.S. military members before the November 2024 presidential election. However, a new and updated directive is not enough. The U.S. military should also commit to training the force on both the content of the new directive and the reasons why norms and rules surrounding political activities are so important to the health of U.S. democratic norms.

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