Commandant Gen. Robert Neller’s two-page letter comes a week after the discovery of Marines United, a 30,000-member Facebook group in which Marines would share nude and compromising pictures of former girlfriends and female colleagues, sometimes including the woman’s name, rank and duty station.
Days after Marines United was discovered, a similar military message board was found on AnonIB, a site notorious for posting nude celebrity photos. This indicated that the issue spread beyond the Marines into other branches of the military.
Marine veteran John Albert took credit for exposing the group. He claimed that he was added to the group by another Marine, not knowing what it was, and was shocked at what he found when finally logged in to the user group in September 2016.
Deciding to go public after posting anonymously on Marine Reddit boards, Albert, who was deployed twice to Afghanistan, described the group in a Facebook post, saying it contained, "Tons of revenge porn, outright nudity posted without consent of others, talk of rape and lewd acts, racism and general debauchery were spread across the entire two days of timeline that I browsed through while thinking, 'What the hell guys.' I respect a ton of you that were members of the page. But, this stuff was dishonorable, sad, misogynistic and illegal."
Erin Kirk-Cuomo, a founder of anti-harassment group Not In My Marine Corps told the Military times that in the last week they have had a groundswell of reports, noting that fear often keeps victims from speaking out. "They're afraid to come out and report. They're terrified of retribution, of being labeled a problem," she said.
The directive went to senior enlisted leaders, commanding generals and unit-commanding officers. A copy obtained by Stars and Stripes read, "In the past week, our core values have come under attack… This inappropriate, disrespectful, and in some cases criminal behavior has a corrosive and negative effect on our Marines and on the Marine Corps."
Neller wrote that the corps would update its 2010 guidelines on social-media conduct, and that troops must be educated on how internet activity can affect people’s lives, and how the service expects them to conduct themselves online.
When using social media, Marines are to use their "best judgment at all times and avoid inappropriate behavior," according to current to guidelines, noting that posts of an abusive, hateful, or threatening nature can bring disciplinary action.
Marines United included misogynistic and sexual comments under the nude photos.
Neller declared, "Leaders should remind our Marines they are not anonymous in the virtual world and remain accountable for their actions…Where we find criminal behavior, we will take appropriate action."
Neller ordered leaders to encourage victims to come forward, offer support to them and tell witnesses to report misconduct when they see it.
Ending on a positive note, Neller wrote that this issue could be overcome if underlying attitude and behavior problems were addressed, saying, "We are better than this."