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Facebook: Personal or not, the AFI still stands

An Airman uses their phone to post to Facebook at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., July 8, 2016. The Air Force views personal Web sites and weblogs positively, and respects the right of Airmen to use them as a medium of self-expression. However, as members of the Air Force, Airmen must abide by certain restrictions to ensure good order and discipline.

An Airman uses their phone to post to Facebook at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., July 8, 2016. The Air Force views personal Web sites and weblogs positively, and respects the right of Airmen to use them as a medium of self-expression. However, as members of the Air Force, Airmen must abide by certain restrictions to ensure good order and discipline.

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

When using social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat, it can become increasingly difficult for us as military personnel to refrain from sharing any information that could reflect negatively on the military with the rest of the world. As members of the Armed Forces, we must continue to acknowledge that we’re held to a higher standard than the general population.

For Air Force personnel specifically, we are governed by Air Force Instructions (AFI). These are mandatory guidelines we must abide by which outline information ranging from how to properly wear the Air Force uniform to our duties and responsibilities as Airmen.

Many people may be unaware that the AFIs also contains information on how Airmen are to use their social media accounts.

According to AFI 35-113 Internal Information, 15. Social Media, “In general, 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, as members of the Air Force, Airmen must abide by certain restrictions to ensure good order and discipline.”

Later it explains how we as Airmen are on duty every hour of the day, every day of the year, and our actions off duty are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

So, let’s focus in on posting to Facebook as Airmen. I say as Airmen because whether we are physically wearing the uniform or not, we still represent the Air Force.

As the lead of the public affairs (PA) social media team, I occasionally receive messages from members of the local community reporting defamatory or otherwise offensive posts made by military personnel on their personal accounts. As unfortunate as that is, it is virtually impossible to regulate an individual’s personal social media account. So we, as PA, often provide guidance on how to properly use government social media accounts. This guidance, in turn, can also provide insight into how to regulate your own personal accounts.

When creating posts, the AFI states that we must “identify to readers of a personal social media site or post that the views expressed are yours alone and that they do not necessarily reflect the views of the Air Force.”

This can at least protect you somewhat, because now you have warned your audience that you will be expressing something they may not find agreeable. This does not, however, give you the freedom to say absolutely anything. Once again, as long as you are serving in the Armed Forces, your uniform, in a figurative sense, does not come off.

Among other things, Airmen must refrain from posting information protected by copyright without the permission of the copyright owner, classified or sensitive information, or anything that would infringe upon the propriety, privacy or personal rights of others.

If you are at all unsure about a post that you’re considering sharing, use your best judgement. There will always be consequences for us as members of the Armed Forces. Don’t hesitate to seek out the knowledge of your leadership, PA office and written guidance.

Those who wish to dig deeper into this specific AFI, or seek guidance in other areas regarding Air Force guidelines you can visit Air Force e-publishing at http://www.e-publishing.af.mil or call the 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs office at 813-828-2215.