By Lizann Lightfoot

How to survive as a military spouse in a world of politics on Facebook

As a military spouse, can the things you say on your social media pages affect your service member’s career? You’re an independent person and entitled to express your opinions. Maybe you think your actions aren’t related to your spouse’s military service. But the truth is your social media can get your service member in trouble.

My Facebook comment almost canceled my husband’s leave

My husband had been deployed to Afghanistan for six months. At the beginning of the deployment, I had our third baby. It was a frustrating time, but my consolation was that my husband would return home early with the Advance Party and other new dads. Then he told me he would not come home early because he had given his seat to an officer. The officer did not even have a new baby. I had to wait an extra month for my husband to return home. One more month on my own with three kids under age three. I was exhausted and angry. When the officer’s wife posted pictures of her husband’s homecoming, I couldn’t contain my emotions. After seeing numerous pictures of her happy family, I commented, “Enjoy your family time, because my husband gave up his seat for yours.”

When my husband finally returned from deployment, he checked into work the next day. And then he was storming into the house. “Did you say something on Facebook to the officer’s wife?” he yelled. I didn’t remember, so he reminded me. “I was just yelled at for an hour because of something stupid you said online,” he huffed, “and now the officer is threatening to cancel my post-deployment leave.”

I was ashamed and embarrassed. I had no idea that my comment could result in the loss of much-needed vacation time.

So what?

In today’s politically-charged climate, the lesson I learned is more important than ever. Service members and their spouses are all entitled to express their opinions. Like anyone else, you can share news stories, attend political events, or participate in rallies. While active duty, Reserves, and National Guard service members have rules that govern their behavior regarding political activities, spouses do not have to adhere to the military’s rules. But it is important to remember courtesy and respect for any military leadership, which includes the commander-in-chief.

Service members are trained to respect authority, even if they don’t agree with the individual. Military spouses learn that even if they don’t like their partner’s boss, they shouldn’t bash them on Facebook.Respect for authority is a huge principle in military life. It includes all authority, from the fire team leader to the base commander and yes, all the way to the President.

It may be difficult to maintain this kind of respect on social media. But failing to do so could potentially impact your spouse’s career or promotion. We never know when our online comments will be read by the wrong person. Our choices online reflect on our service member–positively or negatively.

MOCMusterLogovF-01This week’s MOC Muster podcast is a roundtable discussion about how milspouses should approach politics at command functions and on Facebook. Listen now.

Social media rules for military spouses

So what is a military spouse supposed to do? Sit down and shut up? Hardly. This is not the 1950’s. But there are some basic rules we can apply to our online interactions:

  • Always show respect for your spouse’s boss. This includes their family, as I learned. Don’t speak negatively of a boss or a work decision. Even if you aren’t Facebook friends with others on base, your comments can still reach someone who might take issue with your criticisms.
  • Think before you post. It’s always smart to consider, “What will my spouse think if I post this?” Or ask, “Could this get my spouse in trouble?” If you aren’t sure, then don’t do it until you have discussed it with your spouse.
  • Don’t use foul language to describe political leaders. Your comments could be used later to deny your spouse a Top Secret clearance or a choice assignment. If your spouse makes their career in the military, they may someday try to become an attaché to the Pentagon or a Congressional representative. You have no way of knowing this now, so it’s better to be respectful of all political leaders rather than filled with regret.
  • Be critical of what you might be implying … without saying a word. If your profile picture includes your spouse in uniform, you are linking their military uniform to your online comments. If you frequently engage in political discussion, consider changing your profile picture to something without a uniform or without your spouse. This demonstrates that your opinions are your own.

Social media interactions this year are more emotionally-charged than ever. Keeping your cool and following these guidelines will help prevent your opinions from having a negative impact on your service member’s job.