PENTAGON — The Marine Corps continues to investigate and respond to reports and accusations of gender discrimination and harassment that occurred on social media sites, as illustrated by Marines United. Our focus remains on providing support to individuals impacted by this conduct. Where conduct is determined to have been a violation of law or regulation, commanders will take appropriate action.
The Commandant is personally invested and committed to fixing the problem and has called upon all Marines to address the conditions that contribute to gender discrimination and sex-based harassment and to confront misconduct when encountered. He also directed the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps to lead a task force with representatives from various functional areas to examine attitudes and address behaviors that are corrosive to mutual respect and degrade good order and discipline. The task force is being informed by Marines, veterans, those impacted by online misconduct, and specialists from across the United States.
The following summary highlights both Marine Corps and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) actions taken to date:
1. On Feb 22, 2017, NCIS received notification that a journalist was aware of the private Facebook group Marines United, which he asserted was comprised of approximately 30,000 current and former active-duty personnel, reservists, and civilian members. The reporter further stated that Marines United administrators were facilitating access to a separate Google Drive that displayed sexually explicit photographs of female U.S. Marines and other unidentified individuals. The reporter estimated that approximately 500 members of the private Facebook group were accessing the Google Drive. The Facebook group and the Google Drive, which housed the photographs, were deactivated before NCIS was notified of their existence. An NCIS-led task force was established and began work immediately in late February.
2. March 4, 2017: Upon publication of the reporter’s story, the Marine Corps posted resources for victims and NCIS established its text tip line via social media channels.
3. March 4, 2017: The Commandant of the Marine Corps issued the following statement immediately after the initial Marines United story: “I am not going to comment specifically about an on-going investigation, but I will say this: For anyone to target one of our Marines, online or otherwise, in an inappropriate manner, is distasteful and shows an absence of respect. The success of every Marine, every team, every unit and command throughout our Corps is based on mutual trust and respect. I expect every Marine to demonstrate the highest integrity and loyalty to fellow Marines at all times, on duty, off-duty, and online. I expect Marines to give their all to be the best human beings, teammates, and Marines possible.”
4. March 6, 2017: The NCIS-led task force moved to a ‘war room’ type facility created at NCIS Headquarters at Quantico. Using evidence discovered by the task force, several investigations based on particular images have begun.
- The NCIS task force includes representatives from the Army Criminal Investigation Command, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the Coast Guard Investigative Service and Marine Corps Criminal Investigative Division.
- The NCIS task force receives tips and initiates an investigation when warranted. Information is ultimately routed to the relevant commander for appropriate consideration and action.
- Thousands of images have been reviewed by the NCIS task force, and the NCIS-tip line has received more than 100 tips regarding potential online misconduct. The task force continues working to identify individuals in images collected as part of on-going investigations. NCIS is working to ensure those identified are made aware of the victim advocacy services available to them.
- NCIS continues to use its social media accounts to encourage anyone with knowledge or information of online criminal activity to report it using the NCIS text tip line, particularly individuals who have become aware that explicit photos of them had been taken without their knowledge and posted online.
- Additionally, a HQMC Fusion Cell was created to ensure that all allegations, including those not investigated by the NCIS task force, are appropriately examined and administratively addressed by USMC commanders.
5. March 7, 2017: The Commandant released a video addressing the issue:
- Problem Framing Working Group: Establishes the scope and scale of the problem.
- Current Operations Working Group: Develops the near-term actions to address gender bias and operates an information fusion cell to assess the level of participation by active duty and former Marines.
- Policy Review Working Group: Identifies orders, directives and policies that may require revision.
- Futures Working Group: Reviews and analyzes how the Marine Corps recruits, educates and trains Marines with regard to discrimination, equality, respect, and Marine Corps core values.
7. March 10, 2017: The Commandant issued a White Letter to the force “ensuring commanders and senior enlisted advisors have a common understanding of this situation, focus our efforts to support any victims of these attacks, raise awareness of resources to support victims, and ultimately eliminate conditions that allow this cancer to grow.”
8. March 14, 2017: The Marines Corps released social media guidance via ALMAR 008/17, which provides more specific guidance about what behaviors are appropriate online and consequences for online misconduct, per the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
9. March 22, 2017: The Commandant issued White Letter 2-17, Social Media Guidance-Mandatory Counseling Requirement, via a page 11, which mandates, within 30days, every active-duty and reserve Marine, officer and enlisted, will receive a formal counseling confirming they have read and understand the updated social media guidance outlined in ALMAR 008/17. This counseling is strictly administrative in nature and in no way punitive.
10. Training and Education Command (TECOM) directed additional social media training following the Marines United incident. A more in-depth evaluation is currently underway which will be explored through the task force’s Futures Working Group.
- The Recruit Training Regiment, Marine Recruit Depot San Diego, has developed a Social Media Responsibility Class to be taught by the Company First Sergeant during Marine Week. This initiative began with Company M, which graduated on March 31.
- The Commanding General of Training and Education Command directed all TECOM commands conduct leader-facilitated, rank-appropriate, small-group guided discussions with students and permanent personnel on social media ethics. Discussions include a review of ALMAR 008/17 and viewing of the Commandant’s video message. Subsequent student classes will also conduct these small-group discussions.
- “Welcome Aboard” classes and briefs to new students and staff have been revised to account for increased awareness of social media responsibilities and actions. These topics will be reiterated through graduation and incorporated into the staff’s unit training plan.
11. Victim services, including SAPR Victim Advocates and Victims’ Legal Counsel have been providing services. The most frequently contacted resource since outreach efforts began on 4 March have been SAPR personnel to include Sexual Assault Response Coordinators and SAPR Victim Advocates, and the Victims’ Legal Counsel Office.
12. March 30, 2017: A USMC Social Media Misconduct Symposium was held at Marine Corps Base, Quantico, addressing topics related to social media misconduct. The symposium, hosted by Lieutenant General Mark Brilakis, Deputy Commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, featured subject matter experts from across the Marine Corps and society at large. A panel of experts addressed challenges the military services face regarding social media use among service members. Additionally, Dr. Michelle Drouin, Professor of Psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, presented on the topic of the prevalence of unwelcomed behavior (such as “sexting coercion”) on social media among teenagers and young adults. Further, Ms. Heather Imrie, Director of Program Development and Efficacy, Catharsis Productions, led an interactive presentation that addressed the concept of victim blaming. The symposium served to inform the task force and leaders as they address the Marine Corps efforts to combat gender discrimination, sex-based harassment and related misconduct online. A similar symposium is planned for April 6, 2017 aboard Marine Corps base Quantico.
13. To address the issue of gender discrimination and sex-based harassment, particularly that which occurs online, the Commandant has traveled to bases and stations to address Marines on the issue and set his expectations. He has spoken to Marines at Quantico, Camp Lejeune, New River, Okinawa, Iwakuni, and will soon be visiting Marines on the west coast.
14. April 4, 2017: HQMC released MARADMIN 168/17 that directs commanders to lead guided discussions using the “Leaders’ Handbook and Discussion Guide” developed by the task force. The Handbook also contains guidance for addressing an allegation of online misconduct and outlines a process that commands may use to identify, investigate, and adjudicate inappropriate online content.
15. Ongoing planning: An organization mailbox is being created by HQMC to allow those affected by gender bias or related harassment to share their story with the task force. The task force is also determining outreach forums to invite veteran Marines and veteran service organizations to contribute.