Social media in the Navy

In their article, “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World,” Stuart Blythe, Claire Lauer, and Paul G. Curran (2014) wrote that “the availability of digital and mobile technologies has blurred the lines between personal and professional purposes, and has implications for how we characterize even seemingly inconsequential writing acts such as texing” (p. 282). As social media use evolves, the Navy has implemented policy changes to adapt. Here is my rundown of the good, the bad, and the ugly regarding the Navy’s and Sailors’ uses of social media platforms.

The Good: Social media platforms have expanded the reach of the Navy’s public affairs offices. For example, here is the link to my command’s Facebook page. It shows pictures of ships providing humanitarian aid following Hurricane Maria and recently promoted Sailors. Commands’ social media pages are invaluable to family members of deployed Sailors so they can see some of the missions their loved ones are doing. Many Sailors prefer to use Facebook Messenger to contact loved ones while deployed or just stuck in a secure space. I have one particular Sailor who will more likely respond to a Facebook message than a phone call.

Many Sailors who are “sponsoring” a prospective gain to the command usually first turn to Facebook to find the new Sailor’s contact information. Danah M. Boyd and Nicole B. Ellison (2008) learned in their research “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship” that many people don’t use social media to find new friends (p. 211), but in the Navy it is common practice to “Facebook stalk” incoming members to the command.

Group texting apps such as WhatsApp also help facilitate communication. During Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the base was evacuated. My chain of command did a poor job creating group text phone trees, so information flow was spotty. During Hurricane Irma, we created WhatsApp groups and the communication flow was greatly improved.

The bad: Boyd and Ellison (2014) cited Acquisti and Gross (2006), who said “there is often a disconnect between students’ desire to protect privacy and their behaviors” (p. 222). This is true in the Navy as Sailors have been disciplined for documenting their misbehaviors. The most recent case involved two corpsmen (these junior Sailors were misidentified as nurses in some media reports). who used SnapChat to share videos of them making newborns rap and pictures of their middle fingers with the infants. The caption read, “This is how I feel about these mini Satans.” What was likely just a stupid post to blow off some work steam will likely cost these Sailors their careers due to the outrage on social media. The commander of Navy medicine also implemented a new policy prohibiting the use of cell phones in patient care areas.

The ugly: Boyd and Ellison (2008) also discovered that homogeneous populations tend to associate on social media as well (p. 214). In the military, a group of likeminded servicemembers created a site to exchange nude photos of their fellow military members. It prompted the Chief of Naval Operations to make online harassment punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice to include sharing intimate photos.

Moving forward, I hope more Sailors, especially the junior ones, can learn from the mistakes of their peers and only use social media for positive purposes.

Posted on September 24, 2017, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. As a former Navy wife (in the late 80’s), I see many benefits of social media for Sailors and their families. However, on deployment their is limited privacy, so social media may feel like a microscope of one’s life.

    • Yes, that’s true. There is limited privacy on deployments. My experience has been Sailors still tend to post a lot — or too much — information, especially in regard to the ship’s schedule. Sailors are trained annually on the importance of not posting future plans, but many of them still do it.

  2. Excellent application of the material to your life and great structure to this post! As someone who experienced Hurricane Katrina (see, I know how far so many have come in terms of sharing information during times of crisis. Many friends [nor their parents] had ever texted before, and nowadays that’s the main channel people rely on because it doesn’t fail as quickly as others.

    Sadly, as much as students need lessons in public writing and taking care of their privacy, it often takes an “incident” for the reality of a post’s reach to hit.

    I wonder if a fuller examination of the Navy’s social media strategies could be a final paper topic?

    • Dr. Pignetti,

      Very interesting case study. I can only imagine what you must have experienced with the lack of communication methods with your parents. Thank you for sharing, and thanks for the final paper idea!

      Jennifer R.

  3. Thank you for your personal input on the good, bad and ugly in relation to your experiences in the Navy. They were excellent examples of how social media can be used, or misused!

    “Moving forward, I hope more Sailors, especially the junior ones, can learn from the mistakes of their peers and only use social media for positive purposes.”

    As David Weinberger stated, we are “Ameteurs” in the web right now. We are making mistakes while trying to build up something new because we are rewriting the way we did everything using Web 2.0. I think slowly we will learn from our communal mistakes and make something better.

    • Hi Miriam,

      Thanks for your reply. We definitely are “amateurs,” and I could not be more thankful social media wasn’t “a thing” when I was in high school.

      Jennifer R.

  4. I agree that social media has made it very easy to document bad behavior which makes it hard to keep professional and personal life separate. One thing I do is to always check the privacy level on my postings, Nothing I do is left open to the public while I see many others leave posts public, This is also a concern when communicating with others. If their post is public any comments or reactions I make are also available to the public. I rarely if ever make any comments on social media on pages without privacy settings enabled.

  5. very true social media does distinguish between friends and family.

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