Chief of Navy ‘On the Record’ - social media commentary by RAN personnel

Published on Royal Australian Navy (author), POIS Paul Berry (photographer)

Topic(s): On The Record

Several sailors have had their employment terminated or have been issued with notices of cause for termination for inappropriately using social media. (photo: POIS Paul Berry)
Several sailors have had their employment terminated or have been issued with notices of cause for termination for inappropriately using social media.

In January this year both the ABC and Fairfax media carried stories regarding alleged inappropriate use of social media by members of the Royal Australian Navy. The reporting had a focus on inappropriate comments relating to border protection operations and the alleged involvement of Navy people in the Australian Defence League (ADL), an anti-Islamic Group. Navy had, for some time, been actively policing breaches of Defence social media policy and had already initiated inquiries related to the matters carried in the media. This statement provides an update and response to these media reports.

Navy takes the issue of inappropriate social media commentary very seriously. There is an ongoing monitoring program of our own and Defence related social media sites. Allegations of inappropriate use of social media that are reported by members of the public or other Defence members are acted upon. Defence requires all serving personnel to comply with its social media policy. The policy clearly requires that Navy personnel must not post material that is offensive towards any person or group based on personal traits, attributes, beliefs or practices that exploit objectify or are derogatory of gender, ethnicity or religion.

I am keen that Navy people are proud to identify themselves as members of the RAN in their social media profiles; this more open approach is a shift from the past. With this shift though brings a legitimate responsibility for our people to observe personnel and operational security protocols around what we do. Importantly it brings with it a responsibility to act in accordance with our values and behaviours at all times. This approach has challenges in a primarily young workforce given that some community standards relating to online activity may not reflect the standards Defence expects of its people, but, I believe it is the right approach to help Navy people manage their online presence and activity.

All Navy people were reminded of their social media responsibilities in late January, which included specific mention of how association with groups such as the ADL was both inappropriate and inconsistent with our values. This advice clearly spelt out the consequences of not meeting the standards we expect.

In each instance where inappropriate behaviour has been discovered by us or brought to our attention by others, a formal disciplinary investigation through the Defence Force Discipline Act or through the administrative inquiry process has taken place. No serving member of the RAN has been found to be a member of the Australian Defence League (ADL). A number of personnel have however been found to have made inappropriate comment on social media or to have an affiliation with different social media groups that are not consistent with our values.

Due to the Privacy Act Navy cannot provide specific information on the outcome of the individual cases that have been investigated, particularly where individuals have been named or ‘outed’ in the public domain by others outside of Navy.

Personal accountability is a key feature of Navy’s cultural change program. A number of personnel have been called to account for their social media behaviour. Where there have been breaches of Defence policy or where the behaviour is considered to be inconsistent with Navy’s values, appropriate disciplinary or administrative sanctions have been imposed.

Several sailors have had their employment terminated or have been issued with notices of cause for termination. Others have received a range of disciplinary punishments or other administrative sanctions including formal warnings and either formal or informal counselling depending on the circumstances of the case.

Inappropriate behaviour on social media is unacceptable in Navy because of the damage it causes to others and the impact it can have on us successfully achieving our mission.