Under the Radar

Sound Off: Is Social Media Activity Damaging the Military's Reputation?

Life's rough on Twitter and Facebook. The political arguments are intense and the personal attacks seem endless. A new military survey surfaced by POLITICO suggests that Twitter and Facebook posts by members are endangering the military's reputation for political neutrality.

Army Col. Heidi Urben, a political scientist working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conducted a survey 500 West Point cadets and active-duty officers while studying last year at the Pentagon's National Defense University. 75% of the people who responded said they'd seen their fellow officers share or promote politically charged links and posts on their social media feeds. 33% said they seen others advocate directly for or actively disparage a particular candidate online. That kind of partisan behavior has traditionally been off limits.

Urben wrote that "Such behavior threatens to erode the trust in which the public holds the military, leading to it being viewed as just another interest group." She also told POLITICO that military leaders "must do a better job of communicating why this matters. Those trust and confidence levels, in part, relate to the fact that we are viewed as nonpartisan."

The survey offers another surprising finding: fewer career officers consider themselves conservative or Republican.  54% described themselves as Republican, 24% identified as Democracts and 14% said they were independents. When asked about their political ideology, 47% identified as conservative, 32% as moderate and 22% as liberal. Previous surveys showed as many as 65% of career officers considered themselves to be conservatives.

Open participation in partisan politics could have consequences for the military. "It is the most trusted institution, but a great deal of that is because the military is seen as above the political fray and is interested in the mission without a political ideology getting in the way," said retired Army Lt. Col. Jason Dempsey, a researcher at the Center for a New American Security. "What happens when you open that can of worms and the military is perceived as captured? Its reputation will plummet."

What do you think? Should active-duty men and women keep their political opinions off of social media? Or should the military adapt to changing times? Does everyone have to "pick a side" these days? And is the military really becoming more politically diverse? Sound off!

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