AF mitigates online harassment, provides tips

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JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. — With the tap of a keyboard, people can post their immediate thoughts to social networking websites—whether it’s good, bad or ugly.

Without time to “think it through”, users risk hurting their career and others with defamatory comments or by overstepping their boundaries when sending private messages.

“Using social media websites to degrade, intimidate, humiliate or embarrass someone is considered harassment,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Danielle Turner, 633rd Air Base Wing equal opportunity superintendent. “Social media posts are usually permanent, so people can apologize for their behavior, however, if someone else has already re-posted your negative rant, then the chances of the originator removing it are negated.”

Although social media accounts are personal, U.S. service members should note that all social media posts are considered “on the record.”

According to Air Force Instruction 1-1 Air Force Standards, service members have an obligation to maintain appropriate communication and conduct with officer and enlisted personnel, peers, superiors and subordinates, which is applicable when communicating via social networking services

Due to the directive nature of AFI 1-1, service members can be found derelict in their duties under Article 92, UCMJ due to failure to adhere to standards, and other Articles of the UCMJ may also apply depending on the circumstances, said Senior Airman Mariana Alberts, 633rd Air Base Wing judge advocate paralegal specialist.

To avoid legal action or negative career impact, Turner recommends that members avoid posting emotion based comments about anyone, as emotions can cloud users’ judgment.

“Members caught engaging in this type of behavior are negatively impacting the good order and discipline within the organization. Therefore, they are subjected to the corrective action that leadership deems fit,” said Turner. “You cannot deny your actions because the proof can be reproduced or printed for your leadership to take action against you.”

Victims of online harassment are highly encouraged to report such instances to prevent individuals from disrespecting others or further degrading their character.

“If you are a victim of online harassment, report it now. The person harassing you needs to be stopped [because] usually a person who harasses and engages in this type of negative behavior has multiple targets,” said Turner. “This type of harassment can tarnish someone’s reputation and follow them throughout their military or civilian career, and can have detrimental, long term or permanent effects on the victim. Someone being subjected to online harassment should contact their chain of command.”

If you are a victim of online harassment and believe a threat is likely, contact local law enforcement, or for more information on how to avoid online misconduct, visit http://www.af.mil/Portals/1/documents/SocialMediaGuide2013.pdf.