Monday, October 25, 2010

On "Military Endorsements", Or, Another Weird Christine O'Donnell Story

I have a ton of things on the desk at the moment, and I don’t have the time to really run out this story before Election Day, but I want to bring to your attention something very strange that I found on the 2008 “Christine O’Donnell for Senate” MySpace page.

What it basically comes down to is that the United States Marine Corps and the United States Army are “Christine O’Donnell for Senate” MySpace friends, or that there are persons who have created United States Army and USMC MySpace pages that purport to be official that have “befriended” her candidacy. There’s also a Navy page that appears to emanate from a US Navy recruiting office in California on her ’08 campaign’s “friends” list.

At a minimum, all of this would seem to be a combination of inappropriate behavior and poor management of social media; at worst, you have activity that is “some kind of unlawful”, either on an administrative or civil level.

I’ll make this fast...but I’ll also make it interesting.
Follow along, and you’ll see what I mean.

So here’s the deal: as I mentioned, Christine O’Donnell, perennial Senate candidate from Delaware, has a “Christine O’Donnell for Senate” MySpace page associated with her 2008 Senate campaign, and she has a “Friend Space” on that page.

As of the evening of Saturday, October 23rd, right there in the middle of the second row of friends, immediately below the National Republican Senatorial Committee and “Rush”, are “Marine Corps”, “U.S. Army”, and “U.S. Navy”.

Click on the Army page ( and the Marine page (, and they appear to be official US military pages, with the full set of “enrichments” that you would expect on a professionally created page.

The Navy one is a bit different, starting with the address (, which is clearly not as succinct, if you will, as the other two. It’s also not as graphically rich, and it appears to be a lot more “homemade”.

If you look at the address, after the slash you see “nrselkgrove”. It turns out NRS Elk Grove is a Navy Recruiting Station in Elk Grove, California, a Sacramento suburb. I called the phone number I found, and sure enough, the phone message seems to confirm that this is correct.

I left a message identifying myself, explaining the situation, and offering the folks on the other end of the line a chance to contact me for comment; as of now that has not occurred, and if it does I will be the first to let y’all know.

I sent a message to the Marine Corps press folks asking for some kind of explanation a few days ago, they have also not responded as of this writing.

So what’s the big deal?

Well, right off the bat, the Hatch Act says that Federal executive branch employees cannot engage in politics while they’re acting as Federal employees, and this kind of looks like that, at least as far as the actions of the Navy recruiter who apparently created that Web page are concerned.

The Naval Inspector General says that:

When acting in their official capacity, service members may not engage in activities that associate the Navy with any partisan political campaign or election, candidate, cause, or issue.

And that makes perfect sense: obviously we don’t want members of the military services giving the impression that those services endorse or oppose specific candidates for public office; the Navy recruiter's MySpace page befriending the Senate Candidate's MySpace page surely creates that impression.

Of course, it is possible that someone who has nothing to do with the Navy created the page, that’s true of the Army and Marine pages as well...but if that were true, there are additional concerns we can easily see.

If the three services are totally and completely disassociated from those MySpace pages, then does the military have an issue with anyone at all creating “official” pages on their behalf and then doing things with the pages that the services would not be allowed to do...and if they don’t have an issue with it, don’t you think they should?

Thanks to the experimental work of FNS Chief Social Media Correspondent Blitz Kreiger (who is an actual person with a nom de plume), we do know for a certain fact that the Army and Marines' pages will "friend" anyone, automatically. To confirm that, visit the MySpace page of "Osama Sodomy Laden", who was able to "befriend" both the Army and Marines instantly.

It would appear, at an absolute minimum, that some kind of safeguard is needed so that NAMBLA, or Osama Sodomy Laden, or...”Christine O’Donnell for Senate ’08”...doesn’t put a huge chunk of the US military on their friends list.

Finally, it’s possible that the various military services have policies galore to prevent this sort of thing from happening, but they are unaware of the existence of these MySpace pages. It would be kind of embarrassing...but it is possible.

So let’s sum up what we have:

There are a series of three MySpace pages, each purporting to represent a military service; each has a prominent place on the Christine O’Donnell ’08 campaign’s MySpace friends list.

I did not take the time to determine the “ownership” of two of those pages; the third is associated with a Navy Recruiting Station in California.

It's possible that various military regulations, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Hatch Act, or a series of bad decisions relating to how you manage social media are implicated in the presence of the services as “friends” on the Senate Candidate’s page; if not we have to consider another question: what happens if a disassociated third party uses your marks and logos to create a Web page that you’re either unaware of...or that you allow to exist, even after you become aware of it...and that page is used in a manner that creates the appearance of impropriety?

Since I'm 0-2 when it comes to getting someone from the military to answer my questions when I ask them about it, I can't tell you exactly which explanation is correct, but obviously it’s not a good thing when the appearance is created that the military supports specific candidates, and it’s something that should be fixed as soon as possible.

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