VICENZA, Italy (March 25, 2016) -- The evolution of the Internet, social media, and other electronic media over the last decade has drastically altered how people communicate and interact. It is now easier and faster to convey messages and information than ever before, and in some cases, this can be done in complete anonymity.
While anonymity may allow people to feel more free and uninhibited to discuss otherwise embarrassing or stigmatizing topics, it can also be a community's biggest enemy. People can hide behind their computers while saying whatever they want with little ramification. Protected by this sense of anonymity and lack of accountability, some people become ill-meaning individuals who participate in inappropriate and potentially harmful interactions over the Internet.
The Vicenza Military Community has been the focus of a lot of negative attention by their host nation recently because of social media activity by and directed at VMC members including cyberbullying, personal attacks and other types of inappropriate posts. Not only do these actions reflect badly on the entire Vicenza Military Community, they undermine the dignity and respect of others, and are not consistent with Army values.
The Army spelled out its online social discipline policy last year in an "All Army Activities" message defining online misconduct. While the message is primarily of interest to Soldiers, it also has implications for civilians, contractors and Family members.
The ALARACT states that online misconduct is "the use of electronic communication to inflict harm." Examples include, but are not limited to: harassment, bullying, hazing, stalking, discrimination, retaliation, or any other types of misconduct that undermine dignity and respect.
"Harassment, bullying, hazing, stalking, discrimination, retaliation, and any other type of misconduct that undermines dignity and respect are not consistent with Army Values and negatively impact command climate and readiness," it adds. Facility commanders are to "reinforce a climate where current and future members of the Army team, including Soldiers, Army civilians, contractors, and Family members, understand that online misconduct is inconsistent with Army values."
Soldiers who violate those standards may be subject to discipline under the Uniform Code of Military Justice while civilians could be disciplined under general civilian personnel policies, it states.
Family members are not subject to discipline under the UCMJ. However, according to legal officials, Family members should understand they are in Italy on a permissive basis with their Soldier, and the U.S. Army Garrison Italy is responsible for maintaining the same good order and discipline in the community.
Despite these rules and direction in regard to use of social media and other forms of electronic communication, the Army says it doesn't want to stop Soldiers from communicating online. Instead, said an Army official, when using electronic communication devices, Soldiers should apply "Think, Type, Post." That maxim is summarized as "think about the message being communicated and who could potentially view it; type a communication that is consistent with Army values; and post only those messages that demonstrate dignity and respect for self and others."
If you receive or experience offensive electronic communications -- or become aware of others who do -- report them. Commanders are responsible for maintaining good order and discipline within their organizations. If you have exercised preventive and protective measures and are still experiencing or witnessing online misconduct, you should promptly report matters to the chain of command/supervision or to the appropriate civilian authority. Keep any evidence (like screen shots, emails, text messages, etc.) of online misconduct to submit with your report. Alternate avenues for information about online conduct and reporting include: Family Support Services, Equal Opportunity, Equal Employment Opportunity, Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, the inspector general, and Army law enforcement.