By now, you’ve probably heard that your social media presence has the potential to affect your security clearance and consequently, your job. What exactly does that mean for you? It means the days of carefree posting are gone and it’s time to make your social media sites look professional. If you’re unsure if you should take down those bachelor party photos (you should) or how to restrict your posts to friends only, read on.

1. Hit the Delete Button

Whether you started your social media profiles in college or in your mid-40s, it’s likely they need a good scrub. So grab a digital rag and get rid of the filth. Photos of you doing a keg stand? Delete. Photos of you dressed in a politically incorrect Halloween costume? Delete. Posts where you’ve ranted about touchy topics like racism, sexual harassment, gender equality and religion? Delete, delete, delete. If you need assistance deleting your photos or videos, check out the steps listed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter  and YouTube. Going forward, do your best not to post photos or comments that make you look bad. Ask yourself, should my boss see this? And if the answer is no, don’t post it. You don’t have to share everything. And honestly, is it worth posting something scandalous if it might cost you your job?

2. Unfriend, Unfollow & Block

Investigators are likely to look at not only your profile information, but also your friends, the organizations you support and the people who follow your accounts. And while most of your friends probably won’t raise any red flags, some of them will. Go through your list of friends and start making cuts. If you’re friends with someone you’ve never met in person, delete them. And if you have friends who tend to post a lot of photos involving illegal activities or questionable rants, you should consider deleting them as well. Here are the steps for unfollowing friends on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Next, go through the pages and organizations you follow online and unfollow any pages that might give the wrong impression to someone looking into your profile. Finally, look into the people who follow you on sites like Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Do you have a lot of foreign followers you’ve never met? Consider deleting them. It might be a red flag to investigators. To block followers, follow these steps on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

3. Check your Privacy Settings

If you’re using your social media accounts strictly to keep in touch with friends and family, your page should be set to private, not public. Facebook gives you a lot of privacy options to choose from so spend some time getting familiar with them. One option you should absolutely turn on is the ability to approve content you’re tagged in before it posts to your wall. This gives you control over what others are posting about you and could save you from some embarrassing content. You should also click the option to view how the public sees your profile if they were to search for you. Seeing lots of personal photos and content? Adjust your settings so the public can’t see as much. You can update your privacy settings using these links for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Now, if your accounts are set to public because it’s part of your business or blog, then you’ll need to be even more careful about what you post online. But a better option is to keep separate accounts for your personal life and your business.

4. Search Your Name

One way to find out what the internet is saying about you is to search for your name. Put your name in quotes (as well as nicknames and maiden names) and use the main search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing. If you find any sensitive content like nude photographs or your bank account information, contact the search engine to have it removed. If you find an unflattering photo of yourself that your employer might cringe at, you need to track down the owner of the site and ask them to take it down.

5. Play it Safe

As someone who has a clearance, you become an appealing target. To make sure you don’t become a victim, you should follow a few rules. First, don’t share sensitive or classified information. Period. You’re privy to information at work that should never leave your office. Make sure you keep it there. Next, don’t accept friendship requests from people you don’t know. That hot blonde in a bikini who loves Stars Wars may actually be a male in his 30s trying to solicit sensitive information from you. Don’t fall victim to this scam. Next, don’t post photos that show you’re affiliated with the government. The occasional award photo is fine if you’re sharing it with friends and family, but don’t make it your profile picture for the world to see. Be like Clark Kent. If I search for you on Facebook, I shouldn’t be able to tell you’re an intel officer or a civilian at the Pentagon just by looking at your profile photo. Finally, protect yourself and your family by leaving out key details. No one needs to know what housing complex you live in, where your kids attend school or your detailed schedule.

The idea that someone can look at your social media sites and it could result in the loss of your job is a new concept that can be hard to swallow. I’m not here to say whether it’s right or wrong, but if it’s the new normal, it’s important you take the necessary steps to protect yourself. Take a few minutes to clean up your profile and always remember to put your professional foot forward, even when it comes to your personal social media sites.

Related News

Jennifer Cary is a freelance writer, blogger and former government employee. You can visit her website here.