UCMJ Article 89: Risks of Posting Disrespect Online

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Navigating the military’s legal landscape can be as tricky as a minefield, especially when it comes to online conduct. If you’re in the service, you already know that your actions, both offline and online, are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). But what happens when you hit ‘post’ on something that’s less than respectful?

You might think a quick rant or a heated comment won’t attract much attention, but under the UCMJ, there are specific articles that address conduct unbecoming and disrespect. It’s essential to understand which articles may apply to your online posts before you find yourself in hot water. Let’s dive into the UCMJ and pinpoint the articles that keep your digital demeanor in check.

Understanding the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)

When you’re serving in the United States Armed Forces, it’s vital to recognize the UCMJ as the foundation of military law. The UCMJ is a comprehensive set of rules that governs the military members’ conduct. Whether you’re on base or off, active duty or reserve, these regulations are binding. They even extend to your online activity. As a service member, you may face legal consequences for actions you might not expect, especially in the digital realm.

The UCMJ is divided into Articles which detail specific offenses and their repercussions. It’s essential to familiarize yourself with these, as ignorance isn’t a viable defense under military law. Article 89 deals with disrespect toward a superior commissioned officer while Article 91 addresses insubordination to a warrant officer, NCO, or PO. Article 134, known as the “General Article,” covers a broad range of offenses, including those that may not be explicitly mentioned elsewhere but can still bring discredit upon the Armed Forces.

For online conduct, the situation can be tricky. A seemingly harmless comment can be interpreted as disrespectful and thus may constitute an offense under the UCMJ. Social media posts and emails are often scrutinized for compliance with these standards. In fact, service members have faced disciplinary action for online behavior that would likely be overlooked in the civilian sector.

Consider these real-world examples:

  • Inappropriate public comments towards superiors
  • Sharing disrespectful memes or messages
  • Participating in online groups that undermine the military’s values

Keeping a professional demeanor extends beyond physical interactions; it encompasses everything you share and comment on digitally. Remember, the UCMJ isn’t just about punishment — it’s about maintaining the integrity and professionalism of the military.

Understanding these regulations isn’t just about staying out of trouble; it’s also about embodying the honor and respect that come with wearing the uniform. Each article of the UCMJ serves as a guide to professional conduct, ensuring that you uphold the highest standards both in service and online.

Online Conduct and the UCMJ

In today’s digital age, your online conduct is just as scrutinized under the UCMJ as your behavior in person. As a service member, you’re held to the highest standards of discipline and respect, both on and off duty. This includes your interactions on social media, forums, and any other digital platforms.

Article 89 and Article 91 of the UCMJ are particularly relevant when it comes to disrespectful content. If you post comments that undermine the authority of a commissioned officer (Article 89) or a warrant, noncommissioned, or petty officer (Article 91), you could be subject to prosecution. Here’s a closer look at these articles:

  • Article 89 – Disrespect toward a Superior Commissioned Officer
  • Applies to actions against commissioned officers
  • Protects the authority and dignity of superiors
  • Article 91 – Insubordinate Conduct toward a Warrant Officer, Noncommissioned Officer, or Petty Officer
  • Addresses behavior toward noncommissioned superiors
  • Ensures the respect due to rank and authority

Your understanding of these provisions is essential for maintaining military decorum online. Remember, the line between public and private persona blurs when you’re in the service. Even if your online activity seems private or anonymous, there’s a possibility it can be linked back to you.

Be extra mindful of the language you use and the opinions you express. Even what you might consider a joke or harmless venting could be seen as disrespect. Social media posts, comments, or shared content that can be perceived as belittling or defamatory may trigger an investigation into your conduct.

Adhering to the UCMJ isn’t just about avoiding disciplinary action; it’s about upholding the core values of the military. Respecting the chain of command and the dignity of your fellow service members in all settings solidifies the integrity of the military structure. Whether your boots are on the ground or your fingers are on the keyboard, the UCMJ guides your conduct to reflect the honor of your service.

Articles Addressing Conduct Unbecoming and Disrespect

When you delve into the UCMJ, you’ll find Article 133 and Article 134 are particularly relevant to conduct unbecoming an officer and acts of disrespect. These articles address behaviors that discredit the armed forces or could bring dishonor upon oneself as a service member.

Article 133, Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and Gentleman, outlines that officers must uphold the highest standards of propriety and honor. The implications of this statute are far-reaching, and it’s not confined to physical acts. Disrespectful posts on social media can be perceived as conduct unbecoming, making it essential for you to monitor your online presence diligently.

  • Article 134, known as the General Article, is even more encompassing. It covers wrongful behaviors that are not specifically mentioned in any other article of the UCMJ, including speech and actions that could discredit the military. In the realm of social media, this can include:
  • Derogatory comments about superior officers
  • Disparaging remarks regarding military operations
  • Sharing information that undermines unit cohesion

It’s crucial to recognize that the military views actions conducted online with the same severity as those conducted in person. Your digital footprint could be subject to the same judicial scrutiny as your behavior in the physical world. As service members are held to a continuous standard of conduct, even off-duty posts on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram could potentially fall under the purview of Articles 133 and 134.

The breadth of Article 134 often encompasses new forms of media and technology, adapting to the evolution of communication. This adaptability means that as digital platforms evolve, so do the interpretations of what constitutes disrespectful behavior or conduct unbecoming. To stay ahead of possible infractions, you must understand that universal military principles of honor, integrity, and respect extend to all facets of your life – digital included.

Article 88: Contempt Toward Officials

As a service member, you’re expected to uphold the utmost respect for your superiors and government officials. Article 88 of the UCMJ specifically addresses contempt toward officials—this article is one that you must be keenly aware of when posting on social media or any digital platform. It expressly prohibits commissioned officers from using contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, and other key figures.

Understanding Article 88 is crucial because even a single disrespectful post could lead to charges under this statute. The definition of “contemptuous words” can be broad, encompassing any statement or comment deemed to show disdain or disrespect. So before you post, tweet, or share, it’s imperative you consider the potential repercussions.

If you’re curious about what could be deemed contemptuous, consider that it’s not just blatant insults that make the cut. Subtle jabs, insinuations, or sarcasm could also fall within this article’s purview. The military does not take intent lightly; if your words could be interpreted as disrespectful, they may very well attract scrutiny.

  • Applies only to commissioned officers.
  • Covers specific high-ranking officials.
  • Includes any form of disrespect, whether explicit or implicit.

The consequences of an Article 88 violation can be severe, including disciplinary action or even a court-martial. The gravity of the offense is not lessened by the fact that it occurred in a virtual space—online conduct is viewed with equal seriousness. Therefore, when engaging online, do so with the same decorum you would maintain in physical presence.

Remember the UCMJ’s scope and authority extend into all areas where service members interact, digital realms included. Upholding the reputation of the armed forces and maintaining respect are responsibilities that do not flicker out when you log onto a social media platform. Being mindful of Article 88 and choosing your words wisely on social media can save you from unwanted legal troubles and help sustain the honor of your position.

Article 89: Disrespect Toward a Superior Commissioned Officer

When discussing the UCMJ and online behavior, you can’t overlook Article 89. This statute prohibits any act of disrespect directed toward a superior commissioned officer. Here’s what you should know about the ramifications of this article in the context of social media.

Article 89 underscores the military’s commitment to maintaining a structured chain of command. Disrespectful gestures, statements, or other forms of insubordination can significantly undermine this structure. Whether you’re offline or on digital platforms, upholding the integrity of the chain of command is essential.

Understanding Disrespect Under Article 89

But what constitutes disrespect? Under the UCMJ, it could be anything from an intentional slight to a seemingly innocuous comment that’s perceived as derogatory or insulting. Here are examples of actions that may be interpreted as disrespectful:

  • Posting derogatory remarks about a superior
  • Sharing memes that mock or belittle commanding officers
  • Publicly questioning the decisions or authority of a superior

Consequences of Violating Article 89

The penalties for violating Article 89 can be as severe as those for contempt under Article 88. Potential consequences include:

  • Reduction in rank
  • Forfeiture of pay
  • Confinement

Navigating Article 89 in the Digital Age

In the digital age, the lines between personal and professional life are often blurred, and so is the reach of the UCMJ. Social media posts can be seen as extensions of your military presence. Thus, maintaining professional conduct online is just as important as in-person interactions.

If you’re an active-duty service member, familiarize yourself with the boundaries set by Article 89. Be mindful that posts intended as jokes can sometimes cross the line into disrespect, especially in the eyes of the military justice system. Remember, the content you share online should reflect the discipline and respect inherent in military service.

Always think before you post and consider the potential implications of your online interactions. By doing so, you not only safeguard your career and reputation but also uphold the core values of the armed services.


Navigating online spaces requires the same professionalism you’re expected to display in uniform. Remember, under Article 89, even a casual remark can lead to serious repercussions if it’s deemed disrespectful to a superior officer. Upholding the military’s core values extends to your digital footprint. Before you post, consider the potential impact on your career and reputation. Stay informed about the UCMJ’s guidelines to ensure your online interactions reflect the respect and decorum befitting a service member. Your vigilance in these matters not only protects you but also upholds the esteemed tradition of military discipline and honor.


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