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.”
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
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.”
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.”
At least 20 victims have now come forward to complain that explicit photos of them are being shared online by active duty and retired members of the Marine Corps and others, a leading Navy investigator said Friday.
Curtis Evans, the division chief for criminal investigations for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, told reporters that he expects more victims will come forward as the probe continues.
Former and current female Marines say their photographs and those of women in other services have been shared without their consent on social media, including on a private, men-only Facebook page called Marines United and a Google Drive linked to that page. That Facebook page has been taken down, but officials say the photos may have simply migrated to another private site.
Evans said the investigation has expanded into many more sites online. Officials said that earlier this week at least 17 new sites were being reviewed and that as many as 30,000 images were cataloged on the sites, although many were duplicates. A majority of the photos, officials said, were selfies and did not appear to have been taken surreptitiously, although it’s not clear under what conditions they were shared.
The officials weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
So far, the victims who have come forward are not men, and the investigation has not expanded to gay pornography sites. But, Evans said NCIS will look into every complaint. He said NCIS is working with the other military investigative services and with federal and local law enforcement, including the FBI.
Facebook and Google have been cooperating with the investigation, he added.
There have been about 1,200 screen names identified on the Facebook site, and of those, 725 were active duty Marines, 150 were in the Marine Reserves, 15 were in the active duty Navy and the rest were unidentifiable. Those people were only on the main Facebook page, which involved other issues. It is not known who may have accessed or commented on the Google Drive linked to the Facebook page where the explicit photos were stored.