With increasingly invasive advertising and data-mining practices, its use as a background investigation tool, and studies showing adverse psychological effects from excessive use, my opinion about social media these days is that it simply isn’t worth the problems.

I do, however, vividly remember a time when social media was new and exciting: a special platform for college students to share photographs, messages, and information in a day when phones weren’t yet “smart.”

I also remember the day when Facebook stopped requiring a college email address to join. It was circa 2006 and college students everywhere were aghast to be suddenly getting “friend” requests from their parents and older relatives. Time for a thorough content scrub!

Facebook and other social media platforms have since proliferated, and it was only a matter of time before they became a factor in security clearance background investigations. The government has been incredibly late to this party, but efforts are now underway in earnest to make up for that. As a result, one of the questions we often get from clients is whether to delete their foreign social media contacts.

This is a tricky issue. On one hand, deleting one’s foreign social media contacts en masse screams, “I’m getting a security clearance – target me!” to any of those foreign contacts who might have government connections and happen to be paying attention. That’s probably more of a concern for the relatively small number of security clearance applicants applying for covert roles; but all clearance holders are theoretically targets for hostile foreign intelligence services.

On the other hand, minimizing social contacts with foreign nationals is preferable from a security standpoint. Doing so carries reciprocal benefits for the applicant by cutting down the tedious and burdensome reporting requirements attached to every close and/or continuing foreign contact (and every social media contact, irrespective of the normal “close and/or continuing” requirement, for many intelligence agency personnel).

There are, of course, some situations where it is not practical or desirable to delete foreign social media contacts; for example, your overseas grandmother or a close friend since childhood. All one can do in those situations is use common sense and discretion.

However, we’ve found that most cases of foreign social media contacts involve college acquaintances who have since returned to their home countries, or those met during a “study abroad” program. It would seem that in such situations the best solution is to let the relationships atrophy naturally over the course of time (as most college relationships do) by simply not continuing to initiate contact. Eventually, these connections can be gradually deleted in a way that doesn’t arouse suspicions – or offend sensibilities.


This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

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Sean M. Bigley retired from the practice of law in 2023, after a decade representing clients in the security clearance process. He was previously an investigator for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (then-U.S. Office of Personnel Management) and served from 2020-2024 as a presidentially-appointed member of the National Security Education Board. For security clearance assistance, readers may wish to consider Attorney John Berry, who is available to advise and represent clients in all phases of the security clearance process, including pre-application counseling, denials, revocations, and appeals. Mr. Berry can be found at https://www.berrylegal.com/.