The Internet is feeling a bit rough these days. It’s no wonder more and more security clearance holders are starting to ask themselves if the posts are worth the (potential) pain. A recent commenter on the ClearanceJobs Blog wrote:
After submitting SF86 for TS and talking during an interview they asked me to list all social media accounts. Do you think you can be denied clearance if some of your posts -on FB for example – are not too popular these days. Like if you are supporting a certain person in the government and have a few posts about it. I wonder if I should just close all my media accounts.
To be clear, it wasn’t a background investigator asking for social media accounts, in this case, it was the company security officer. Is that allowed? Yes. How will the information be used? It’s hard to say. The courts have largely argued that employers can’t ask you to hand over your social media usernames and passwords. That doesn’t mean they can’t ask you where you engage, or search publicly available information. For security clearance holders, specifically, Security Executive Agent Directive (SEAD) 5, published in 2016, paved the way for the government to be able to consider public-facing social media sites in the course of their background investigations.
The government has been quick to point out it has not yet created a good process for ‘checking’ social media in the background investigations process, but for sure, publicly available social media information may be a part of the government’s continuous evaluation process.
Does Deleting Social Media Help?
When it comes to social media postings and the security clearance process, the government will not be looking for information about the political candidates you support or your unpopular policy opinions – unless that unpopular opinion relates to overthrowing the government. But for the applicant above, it was a security officer requesting the information, and that’s where it gets trickier. More and more cleared companies are implementing their own evaluation and employee monitoring programs – and while their criteria should/would likely mirror that of the government, there are humans involved in the system, and human biases at play.
With cancel culture in the news, security clearance holders are understandably leery. This time last week Carson King became an ‘Iowa Legend’ by asking for Venmo donations to replenish is Busch Light supply. The support was overwhelming, and after raising just $600, King pledged to donate any funds raised to the University of Iowa’s Stead Children’s Hospital. Donations ballooned, and King quickly raised more than $1 million ($2 million as of publication) for the hospital. Days later the Des Moines Register dug up 8-year old tweets King had posted, which caused an Internet backlash and prompted Anheuser Busch to pull back their support – other than standing by a pledge to donate to the hospital.
If a tweet you posted when you were in high school can cause a company to rescind a marketing promotion, it’s no wonder many security clearance holders are starting to ask if their social media posts may cause them to lose a job – or worse. Several posters on ClearanceJobs Blog speculated as to whether deleting their social media accounts would help – or if an errant comment could still pose an issue.
If you have posts you’ve made in the past you’re not proud of, deleting them may be a positive step to show you no longer associate with those views. As security clearance attorney and contributor Sean Bigley recently wrote, deleting your social media accounts – in today’s politically charged cancel culture – may be as much of a mental health boost as it is a career boost.
That said, if you enjoy engaging on social media, and you don’t have anything you’re ashamed of in your past, you likely have nothing to fear but fear itself. For security clearance determinations, specifically, any issues must be aligned to one of the 13 adjudicative criteria – and what is considered appropriate behavior and inappropriate behavior is fairly straightforward. And keep in mind the security clearance process rests on the ‘whole person’ concept – which means a few tweets from eight years ago cannot be used to tank your chances of a security clearance. When it comes to the government, they care about who you are today – not a bad choice from years ago. And while we can’t comment on what defense employers are looking for in their own internal monitoring programs, we can certainly hope they apply similar criteria. If they don’t, there is likely an employment attorney waiting to take your case.
Much about the clearance process resembles the Pirate’s Code: “more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.” This case-by-case system is meant to consider the whole person, increase process security, and allow the lowest-risk/highest-need candidates to complete the process. However, it also creates a lot of questions for applicants. For this reason, ClearanceJobs maintains ClearanceJobsBlog.com – a forum where clearance seekers can ask the cleared community for advice on their specific security concerns. Ask CJ explores questions posed on the ClearanceJobs Blog forum,emails received, and comments from this site.
If you have a security clearance question, post it on ClearanceJobsBlog.com.