What you post on social media may seem harmless – an off-the-cuff comment made in the moment. Unfortunately, some have learned the hard way that a moment truly lasts forever. Comments, memes, and images posted years earlier have resurfaced and what might have seemed harmless has come back to haunt some individuals. Oversharing on social media has been a problem for years, but even if you changed your behavior, what you did years ago can still be a problem.
Just last week, Alexi McCammond, a reporter and part-time contributor to MSNBC, learned this the hard way after she was named editor-in-chief at Teen Vogue, only to find herself out of the job after old tweets resurfaced. McCammond wasn’t up for a job that required security clearance or even involved much of a background check, but comments posted more than a decade ago still surfaced.
Those tweets had already been made public in 2019, and McCammond apologized. That wasn’t enough for some of her potential subordinates at the Condé Nast-owned magazine. As a result, the publisher and McCammond parted ways. McCammond joins the ranks of actress Gina Carano and others whose social media comments have impacted their careers.
Digital Skeletons in the Closet
The takeaway for anyone in these – and sadly similar – stories is that it isn’t just employers that will do deep dives. Part of today’s so-called “cancel culture” is that there are those who will actively seek out to find any of those proverbial “skeletons in the closet,” and many firms do now give at least a cursory scan of social media to see if any opinions have been voiced and where applicants may stand on hot button issues.
“It’s certainly a concern for people applying for jobs requiring background checks, but it’s also an issue that most other job hunters should be aware of,” technology industry analyst Charles King of Pund-IT explained.
“Social media posts can act as an informal guide to someone’s personality – showing often unvarnished details of past activities, plus personal interests and associations,” King told ClearanceJobs. “All of these points can provide insights into an individual’s character so prospective employers are understandably curious. It has also become so difficult to fire or dismiss employees that businesses are doing all they can to ensure that job candidates are a good fit.”
Scrubbing the Digital Footprint
Movies and TV shows suggest there are ways to “erase” past comments, but the truth is that even deleted posts can suddenly turn up. If so much as one person saw and saved them – via a screenshot or other methods – what someone posted can remain forever.
Truly “scrubbing” one’s history isn’t exactly easy, but not impossible however.
“There are certain things a person can do to make social searches more challenging,” King explained. “Those range from making accounts private to purging posts to removing or deleting social accounts. That won’t help if someone has copied or made screenshots of offensive posts. However, that mainly seems to be a problem faced by celebrities, political figures and other high profile individuals.”
There are also firms that offer “scrubbing services” but how effective they are is debatable. There are some ways to remove old posts, but most experts agree that if you posted something controversial, the best course of action may be not to hide from it.
Instead, address it head on if needed.
Social Media and Security
While it is unlikely that social media will play a factor where security clearance is concerned – and so far government agencies and contractors haven’t embraced cyber vetting despite changing policies to allow it – there is still a reason to be cautious.
“For the most part security vetting pays little attention to social media posts, particularly politically controversial content,” said Bradley P. Moss of the Law Office of Mark S. Zaid, P.C.
“There are exceptions, to be sure, such as advocating the overthrow of the government or endorsing violent behavior against other individuals,” Moss told ClearanceJobs. “More commonly, however, public social media postings are really only of interest to security investigators if they provide information that contradicts or conflicts with information the subject has disclosed in security paperwork, such as drug use, alcohol abuse, or interactions with certain foreign nationals.”
This still isn’t to say that the government sector is immune from cancel cultural, including what someone might have posted on social media.
“The impact of ‘cancel culture’ in government is more prominent among political appointees and even then only in the context of their hiring itself,” added Moss.
As has always been the case, the best course of action remains not to overshare, never post anything you’d feel uncomfortable saying in front of your grandmother, and don’t try to hide if there is something you wish you hadn’t posted.