Marines United, a private Facebook group with 30,000 members, including active duty Marines and veterans, is at the center of a scandal after a news report revealed some in the group were sharing nude photographs of female Marines.
Thomas James Brennan, a reporter and Marines Corps veteran, exposed the Facebook group Sunday in a story on the investigative journalism website Reveal.
Brennan reports that more than 2,500 comments were made on the page related to the naked photographs of Marines. His report found that since January 30, more than two dozen women, including many on active duty, were identified by their full name, rank and military duty in photographs posted to the Facebook page.
“Some invited others to collect, identify and share photos of naked or scantily clad servicewomen,” Brennan reports. “Based on their profiles, service members who participated in the photo sharing are stationed around the world — from Japan to North Carolina — and across military branches, from air wing to infantry.”
According to Brennan, “Dozens of now-deleted Google Drive folders linked from the Facebook page included dossiers of women containing their names, military branches, nude photographs, screenshots of their social media accounts and images of sexual acts. Dozens of other subfolders included unidentifiable women in various stages of undress. Many images appear to have originated from the consensual, but private, exchange of racy images, some clearly taken by the women themselves.”
Some women interviewed by Brennan said the photos were leaked by former partners, while others said their accounts might have been hacked.
“The Marine Corps is deeply concerned about allegations regarding the derogatory online comments and sharing of salacious photographs in a closed website,” Captain Ryan Alvis, a public affairs officer, said in a statement. “This behavior destroys morale, erodes trust, and degrades the individual. The Marine Corps does not condone this sort of behavior, which undermines our core values.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Marines United Facebook Group Was Started in 2015 & Limits Membership to Male Marines, Navy Corpsmen & British Royal Marines
The Marines United Facebook page and associated Google Drives have been taken off-line and an investigation is underway. The administrators of the page have not commented and have not been named publicly.
The group was started about 2015, according to Thomas Brennan’s Reveal report. It limits membership to male Marines, Navy Corpsmen and British Royal Marines.
Many of the members posted using their real names and profiles that included details about their rank and where they were stationed, according to Brennan.
According to Brennan, one member of the group wrote in response to photos of a service member saying the person taking them should “take her out back and pound her out.” Another person responded, “And butthole. And throat. And ears. Both of them. Video it though … for science.”
Marine Lance Corporal Marisa Woytek told the Washington Post her Instagram photos were uploaded to the page without her consent, and received comments related to sexual assault and rape.
“Even if I could, I’m never reenlisting,” Woytek told the Post. “Being sexually harassed online ruined the Marine Corps for me, and the experience.”
Some have come to the defense of the page, claiming the media reporting on the story do not know what actually happened on the social media group.
“Defenders of the private group, following Marine Corps Times’ initial report, pointed out members have helped Marines suffering from post-traumatic stress, and that the group has reacted in force to help suicidal service members,” the Marine Corps Times reports.
A public group with a similar name, Marines United Forever, is not associated with the photo-sharing scandal.
“Let me put it to rest we are not the ones responsible, this other page Marines United we have had several issues with in the past. They are in no way affiliated with us by any means,” that group’s administrator said in a post on Monday. “And by God if there were actual Active Duty Marines involved in this scandal, I hope they are punished to the full extent of the UCMJ and Dishonorably discharged. This is not the Marine Corps I know and not everyone in the Marines are bad men or women, this sickens me. I for one will not tolerate it, but then again I like most of us was raised in a different time when we respected each other.”
2. A Marine Veteran Who Worked for a Government Subcontractor Was Fired After Creating a Google Drive to Host the Nude Photos
Many of the photos were shared through a private Google Drive account created by a Marine veteran to allow for a place for the nude pictures to be hosted. Other members of the group were invited to upload to the Drive, according to Reveal.
He was working for a government subcontractor, and has been fired from that job, according to the Marine Corps, which contacted the private company to alert them to the incident.
“Here you go, you thirsty f*cks … this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is more coming,” the Marine veteran said in a Facebook post sharing the link to the drive, according to Reveal. “Anyone can contribute. They just have to (private message) me for their own personal upload link.”
Sergeant Major Ronald Green said in a statement, “We need to be brutally honest with ourselves and each other: This behavior hurts fellow Marines, family members, and civilians. It is a direct attack on our ethos and legacy. It is inconsistent with our core values, and it impedes our ability to perform our mission.”
3. Members of the Group Called for the Journalist Who Exposed Them to be ‘Waterboarded’ & Put a Bounty Out for Photos of His Daughter
Thomas James Brennan, who reported on the story for Reveal, which is part of the Center for Investigative Reporting, is a Marine Corps veteran and Purple Heart recipient. He attended the Columbia School of Journalism and founded The War Horse, to report on military issues.
Brennan has come under fire from members of the Facebook group who have called for him to be tortured and put out a bounty for photos of his daughter and wife.
He told CBS News, they threatened to “waterboard this p-o-s” and said “I’ll pay 500 to the dude that can get good nudes of his girl.”
“I’ve scrolled by things like this on Facebook before. I think this is a good gut check for a lot of people. We have all scrolled by things we shouldn’t tolerate on social media,” Brennan told CBS News.
4. NCIS Is Investigating & Could File Criminal Charges Against Marines Involved in the Group
A 10-page document prepared by the Marine Corps to respond to the Reveal article was leaked and can be read above.
In the document, the authors wrote about expected responses from Marines:
The story will likely spark shares and discussions across social media, offering venues for Marines and former Marines who may victim blame, i.e., “they shouldn’t have taken the photos in the first place,” or bemoan that they believe the Corps is becoming soft or politically correct. Concern from Congress about the Marines Corps’ treatment of women across the force may be a topic of discussion. Combined, these articlesmay1) may negatively impact perceptions among female Marines of leadership’s ability to address these situations, 2) spark criticism from nonprofit groups that advocate on behalf of female service members, 3) require communication to Congress in terms of how the Corps intends to handle these situationsand what deliberate actions that it will take in the future, and 4) negatively impact the Corps’ reputation among segments of the American public
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) is investigating the Facebook page and could bring criminal charges against members of the Facebook group, the Marine Corps says.
“The Marine Corps takes every allegation of misconduct seriously. Allegations of misconduct are thoroughly investigated and handled at the appropriate judicial or administrative forum,” Captain Ryan Alvis said in a statement.
“A Marine shared a photo of another person that was taken without that person’s consent and under circumstances in which that other person had a reasonable expectation of privacy, the Marine may have violated Article 120c, UCMJ, for broadcasting or distribution of an indecent visual recording,” Alvis said. “A Marine who directly participates in, encourages, or condones such actions could also be subjected to criminal proceedings or adverse administrative actions.”
Alvis said the Marine Corps also is taking steps to help those affected by the Marines United Facebook group.
“In addition to the chain of command, resources include, but are not limited to: Military One Source, Inspector General hotlines and military chaplains. Individuals can also report the incident to local authorities,” Alvis said. “Efforts are underway to notify commanders and other resource providers about the incident to ensure they are aware.”
5. The Marine Corps Was Criticized in 2013 by Congressional Leaders After a Similar Scandal Involving Misogynistic Posts on Social Media
The Marines United scandal is not the first time the Marines Corps has had to respond to a controversy involving social media. Congressional leaders criticized the Corps in 2013 after misogynistic posts on Facebook groups were uncovered.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier, of California, sent a letter to military leaders about similar Facebook pages, spotlighting one called “F’N Wook.”
“The ‘humor’ expressed on this page and similar pages like ‘Just the Tip, of the Spear,’ ‘U Suckers Missed Christmas – USMC,’ and ‘POG Boot Fucks”’contribute to a culture that permits and seems to encourage sexual assault and abuse,” Speier said in a statement in 2013.
“Then Commandant, Gen Amos,responded by outlining the ways that the Marine Corps currently faces the challenges with social media via its policies, training requirements, employment of the Marine Corps Cybersecurity Assessment Team, and duties of Trademark and Licensing office,” according to a Marine Corps document prepared to respond to the latest controversy.