Since February, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service has scanned nearly 131,000 images across 168 social media sites and has reviewed information related to 89 persons of interest as a result of incidents related to the nonconsensual sharing of explicit photos and other online misconduct.
Among all persons of interest, 22 are civilians, and 67 are active-duty or reserve Marines. Five of these cases remain with NCIS as they investigate, while 62 have been passed to appropriate Marine commands for disposition.
To date, command dispositions have resulted in one summary court-martial, two administrative separations, seven non-judicial punishments, and 22 adverse administrative actions. These cases span beyond the Marines United Facebook page and include a spectrum of behavior.
While many cases involve photos, clothed or explicit, some involve verbal remarks without images.
USMC photo by LCpl. Nicholas J. Trager, Combat Camera, SOI-E
On June 29, a Marine plead guilty at a summary-court martial related to the non-consensual sharing of explicit photos on the Marines United Facebook group. The Marine was sentenced to 10 days confinement, reduction of rank by three grades, and a forfeiture of two-thirds of one month's pay. Additionally, the process to administratively separate the Marine is underway.
According to Gen. Glenn Walters, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps and head of the Marine Corps Task Force that is addressing cultural issues with the Corps, the scope and apparent tolerance by some Marines for online misconduct has resulted in updates to Marine Corps training, policies and orders to ensure that Marines understand the expectations of what is and is not appropriate on social media.
"While those changes address the immediate behavioral issue, we also remain committed to addressing and evolving our culture by changing the way we educate, train, and lead our Marines – we will not tolerate a lack of respect for any member of our team," said Walters.
USMC photo by Staff Sgt. Greg Thomas
To help guide commanders and to ensure they have the appropriate information available to discuss and train Marines on online misconduct, the Marine Corps created a Leader's Handbook in April 2017. According to Task Force personnel, the handbook provides leaders guidance on how to report and review each case. It also provides a range of potential accountability mechanisms available to commanders.
In addition to the updates to policies and orders, the Marine Corps has adjusted how it handles reports of online misconduct. Any allegation is now reported to NCIS for review and investigated if criminal in nature. If not criminal in nature, the cases are passed to the appropriate command for disposition. Additionally, commanders are now required to report allegations of online misconduct to Headquarters Marines Corps.
"I think it's important to recognize that our understanding of the issue has evolved over time," said Walters. "How we handle cases today is much different and more effective as a result of what occurred with Marines United. Moving forward, we are planning to establish a permanent structure that can address all of the factors that contribute to the negative subculture that has allowed this behavior to exist."