The Big Three (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) have managed to keep their outrage factories in full gear even though we're in an off year for politics.
Things are just going to get more intense in the run up to the 2020 elections, so it's probably a good time to remind yourself how to avoid a few mistakes that could impact or end your career.
Try to remember to use the internet for as its inventors intended: cute animal videos, making your high school friends jealous of your awesome life and talking trash about sports.
Here are some mistakes to avoid.
1. Don't Compromise OPSEC/PERSEC
Broadcasting your (or your family member's) deployments on Facebook can most definitely compromise an operation's security. No matter how proud (or frustrated) you are with that fifth round in Afghanistan, keep the details to yourself until the mission is over.
Also, turn off that fitness tracker. Lots of us like to rack up social media cred by sharing just how AWESOME our workouts can be. Turns out that the privacy settings on those fitness apps leave a lot to be desired and could potentially expose information on military personnel’s exact location and activities at military bases worldwide.
Use an old-fashioned step counter like your grandparents did and learn to read a map.
2. Don't Be a Bully Online
It's one thing to compare a soldier to Bobby from "King of the Hill" and crack up everyone in the barracks and another thing entirely to turn that joke into an online meme. Humiliate someone on the internet with what you considered an innocent crack and the brass will bust you for bullying. Especially if you're not as funny as you think you are.
(Pfc. Andrew Hartmann, the soldier featured in the Bobby Hill meme above, showed remarkable poise when that image went viral last year. Not everyone will be as easygoing about what's still a mean joke.)
3. Drugs: Still Against the Rules
Recreational marijuana use is now legal in ten states plus the District of Columbia. Twenty-three more allow its medical use. Unless you live in the heart of Dixie, you're at most one state line away from someone who's legally lighting up.
The Feds still believe weed should be illegal and it's strictly off-limits to active duty military members, even if the most conservative veterans groups are advocating for its medical use by the VA.
Most of us under the age of 60 are surrounded by social media posts of our friends and family members sparking up or whipping up a batch of pot brownies. But just because weed has gone mainstream, you can't slip up and endorse its use on social media. Stay off drugs or keep doing them in secret like your parents did.
4. Don't Share Nudes
There are two angles on this one.
First, don't share nudes of yourself. Maybe share nudes of yourself with a committed life partner who has earned your eternal trust. Definitely do not share nudes with that cute guy or girl you met last week down at the local tavern. Once you send them, you've lost all control of what happens (see below).
Second, we shouldn't have to remind anyone of this, but here goes: Never share nudes of someone else, whether you took them or not. Don't share nudes of your ex after they've betrayed you. Don't forward nudes of someone you don't even know when your idiot friends shared them with you.
The 2017 Marines United Facebook group scandal made the military look bad and the bad PR it generated means the next group dumb enough to do this is going to get slammed even harder.
There's no such thing as a "private" Facebook group, email list or texting chain. Anyone can break ranks at any time. Anyone paying attention to OPSEC should have know this already.
5. Don't Threaten a Government Official
Sure your Uncle Leroy served three tours in Vietnam and received a Purple Heart, but now he's a civilian. His Facebook rants about what he'd like to do to a current (or former) president or the FBI agents who may or may not be planning to come take his guns are the kind of protected free speech our men and women in uniform are fighting to project.
You, on the other hand, are sworn to protect the commander in chief. Any ranting that can even vaguely be interpreted as a threat will bring the Secret Service to your door. Just ask Kody Brittingham, whose hatred of President Obama landed him in federal prison and on our "Military Members Who Turned Extremist" list.
6. Don't Make Political Statements or Endorsements
Sure, it seems like forever since the days when our presidents at least pretended to represent all Americans instead of just the ones who voted for them, but the fact that our politicians have dropped that mask doesn't change the rules for military members.
Our military is fighting to defend the rights of all American citizens, even the ones we may not agree with. That's a tough one to swallow sometimes, but it's that belief that's supposed to separate us from every other country in the world.
No matter who's president or running the Congress, the military's job is to execute the policies of the United States of America. People can probably guess who you voted for based on how you choose to live your life, but military members are supposed to keep their politics to themselves.
After you've transitioned out of the military, you've got the rest of your life to rant on social media. In fact, some of our most persistent Military.com commenters are veterans who will explain exactly how this country's gone to hell.
Sharing those thoughts now is just going to get you into trouble. Keep your mouth shut until you run for Congress in a few years.