Forget Russia or China: The biggest threat to the U.S. military today comes from social media, which provides limitless opportunities for service members to abruptly end their careers by doing something stupid.
While this phenomenon is not specific to one particular military branch, the Army seems to be the Typhoid Mary of America’s ongoing social media stupidity pandemic.
In the past week, Fort Bragg’s official Twitter account posted obscene material. A spokesman for the 18th Airborne Corps initially said the Twitter account had been hacked. (Narrator’s voice: It wasn’t.)
TikTok in particular appears to be the Army’s Kryptonite. Two soldiers with the Michigan Army National Guard were recently disciplined for making a video in which they called liberals and Democrats “crybabies” and “snowflakes.” (As it turns out, their battalion commander is also under investigation for allegedly espousing conspiracy theories on his private Facebook page.)
In two separate recent incidents: A paratrooper took a video selfie of himself drinking cranberry juice and vibing to Fleetwood Mac during an actual jump and an Army lieutenant joked about the Holocaust, prompting investigations of both soldiers.
Stories about troops making a TikTok video of themselves doing something incredibly stupid are becoming so pervasive and happening so often that we could easily dedicate a team of reporters to cover them. (My poor colleague Haley Britzky has already developed quite the repertoire on this subject.)
Why does all of this matter? It has become apparent that a significant number of service members feel that too few nonjudicial punishments are being meted out so they are volunteering to get busted down a rank or two or get administratively separated.
I’m rapidly becoming too old for this job. When I started as a cub reporter nearly 20 years ago, there was no social media. I know I sound like Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men, but back then it took time and effort to make a video that would end your career: You needed a video camera, lights, nude models, etc. Even then, you would end up with a tape that people had to physically put into a VCR.
All of this sounds quaint in an age when one can instantly reach a wide audience on Twitter, an outlet that allows violent and unhinged people to threaten whomever they want. Take Marine Pfc. Jarrett Morford, who posted a video this month on Twitter in which he blamed China for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and he vowed to shoot anyone of Chinese origin when he got to the fleet.
It is extremely unlikely that this problem will go away anytime soon. That’s why I am proposing a Sherman-esque solution: Ban all service members from posting anything on social media.
- No TikTok
- No Facebook
- No Twitter
- No Snapchat
- No Instagram
If that sounds harsh, remember that when Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman ran into an obstacle, he would just burn it down. Say what you will, but he didn’t have to leave troops behind to garrison Atlanta.
I realize that it will make me extremely unpopular to suggest that troops should not be allowed to post on social media — and I don’t care. Each service member’s mobile phone is a weapon of mass destruction in the social media age. If you think I enjoy writing about yet another controversial TikTok video, think again.
Social media is an ideal forum for sociopaths. There is no need for members of the military – especially junior enlisted service members – to add to the manure pile every day with moronic or racist posts and videos.
The Pentagon is obsessed with how it would win a war against China. But the People’s Liberation Army does not have the power to boot you from the service. Social media does.
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Jeff Schogol covers the Pentagon for Task & Purpose. He has covered the military for 15 years and embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq and Haiti. Prior to joining T&P, he covered the Marine Corps and Air Force at Military Times. Comments or thoughts to share? Send them to Jeff Schogol via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or direct message @JeffSchogol on Twitter.