The average social media user has been interacting on the internet for a decade, but most don’t realize that government and industry are actively, and sometimes aggressively, scanning social media profiles for keywords that reveal what kind of person they may be hiring – or firing.

No More Fun and Games

Remember social media’s infancy, the carefree days of MySpace and the early days of Facebook? At that time the most a person had to worry about was being unfriended or maybe stalked by an ex.

Those days are now a distant memory — the newer generation of social media users aren’t old enough to remember the good old days when you didn’t have to worry about social media use potentially ruining your life or career.

Artificial Intelligence is a Game-Changer

Now more than ever before, it’s important to understand the negative and potentially life-altering consequences of poor social media choices and behavior, even the words being used. Photos used to be the most worrisome aspect of social media use, but with the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) tools, the words are potentially just as damaging as images.

It isn’t just job seekers or employees who have to choose their words professionally and wisely. Students should be aware that between 35% and 50% of college admissions officers use AI to check social media accounts as part of the applicant’s selection process. And once students graduate and start the job search, recruiters are also using AI tools to scan prospective job candidates social media accounts.

Choosing Words Wisely

There are regular news stories capturing the sad details of irresponsible and ignorant social media use, so there is clearly still a segment of the population who doesn’t understand how serious the social media terrain has become.

Think before you post is sound advice. Unfortunately, some social media users forget how their words can be interpreted. Words have consequences. Employers can fire or suspend employees who say or write things that bring negative attention to their company or organization.

For those with a security clearance, there are even more risks and consequences of careless and uninformed social media use, and this is where the words matter most. Posting things on social media that could be seen as a security breach or even negative comments about the government can carry dire consequences.

More and more government agencies are monitoring social media platforms for keywords that can indicate national security risks or infractions. Learning to self-censor and choose words carefully is about to become the most value asset a social media user can have.

Risks – Social, Financial, All-Inclusive

Newer and better AI technology has tools capable of analyzing and detecting what users believe, intelligence, personal stability, financial and social information –  just by the words used in posts and comments.

Currently, the FBI is seeking a contractor with capabilities to give “access to tools that will allow for exploration of lawfully collected/acquired data from social media platforms that will be stored, vetted and formatted by a vendor.”

The Department of Homeland Security has been monitoring social media accounts for many years, and has been called out for monitoring journalists, lawyers and protestors.

Customs and Border Protection is scanning social media for situational awareness of events such as active shooter, and environmental and natural disasters near border crossings. CBP is also using AI tools to monitor social media users and website visits.

Most of the data being sought is to monitor and track terrorist organizations – both foreign and domestic – criminals, and those who pose threats to national security. But the use of AI monitoring opens the possibility that some social media posts may be misconstrued. It’s in every user’s interest to assume the worst and hope for the best when posting on social media. Don’t ignore the risks.

The Bottom Line: Someone’s watching

Social media can be a constructive and positive tool to stay current with friends and family, as well as professional contacts. Some social media platforms and sites are well-suited for staying abreast of national and international news and events.

That said, there are inherent risks for anyone who fails to control what they post, especially failing to self-monitor and actively review and manage privacy settings, content, and interaction.

Bearing in mind that social media is not a private space, there should be no assumption of security or privacy. Hard stop. It doesn’t matter if security measures and privacy choices are locked down, there should be no guarantee whatsoever that what is posted will remain private. Posting on social media should be viewed as if it was posted on the front page of a newspaper.

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Diana M. Rodriguez is a native Washingtonian who works as a professional freelance writer, commentator, and blogger; as well as a public affairs, website content and social media manager for the Department of Defense.