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Three Social Media Activities That Might Cost You Your Security Clearance

Posted by Anthony Kuhn

It should be no surprise that most clearance holders have active social media accounts on one or more of the many available platforms. Over the past year technological improvements used to track information and activity on social media platforms has rapidly increased.

While the security clearance world builds out the Continuous Evaluation program, it would not be surprising to see an increased focus on social media and internet activity in the very near future.

Guideline A of the Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information deals with “Allegiance to the United States.” In reviewing potential violations of this guideline, the government looks for indicators that a person has associated themselves with or is a sympathizer for persons or organizations who advocate, threaten, or use force for a number of different nefarious activities counter to Federal, state, or local governments. Here are a few social media activities that might cost you your clearance:

1. Actively advocating for violence against the government or any government official

You must not advocate for or threaten violence against the government or any government official. This might appear to be simple advice, but many people regularly threaten to “fight” for what they believe in or might urge others that “now is the time to…” You might have made comments that have been repeated throughout history since the time of our founding fathers to modern day, such as “The second amendment is there to protect all of the other amendments.” An investigator or adjudicator might perceive that language to mean that you intend to take up arms against the government, which might result in having to litigate to obtain or maintain your security clearance. Choose your words and actions wisely.

2. Liking, sharing, or joining pages or groups that might be considered to be anti-government or extremist groups

Yes, you read that correctly, even being subscribed to some of these groups can cause you to lose your active clearance. Regardless of whether you are active in these online communities or not, it’s not worth the risk of losing your security clearance over. This applies to all groups big or small. While in most cases the divide between what’s extremist or anti-government is relatively clear, there still remains a certain gray area that you should be cognizant of.

For example, many activism groups—whether there actions are well founded or not—often fall into this category due to the mixed press they receive. This is especially poignant because a lot of groups are conceived with the mantra of “fighting tyranny” or “fighting social injustice,” which also attracts a lot of service members. This can spell trouble for military members and veterans because any inexperienced investigator that is trying to make a name for themselves will quickly pounce on your involvement with these groups and could point to your membership or likes on these pages to try and make a case to remove you from your active clearance status.

3. Liking, sharing, or even failing to delete negative social media content from your platforms

The act of liking or sharing extremist language or calls to action might be enough to catch the attention of an investigator. Unfortunately, failing to delete negative comments or content that was shared to your page might also be enough to jeopardize your clearance. The clearance adjudication process is extraordinarily discretionary, and somebody might perceive your failure to delete such information to be complicity or a conscious decision to promote such content. As much as you might hate to have to censor friends and family, you would really hate having to file for unemployment if you lost your job due to an inability to maintain a clearance.

Having a private account or joining private pages will offer little to no protections. Investigators will have tools and resources available to them to ensure that they are obtaining the information necessary for matters of national security.

Enjoy social media, but choose your words and actions wisely.

Anthony Kuhn is a Managing Partner at Tully Rinckey PLLC and Chair of the firm’s National Security and Military Law practice groups. He is a combat veteran with nearly 25 years of service in the United States Army and Army Reserve, an adjunct professor and co-director of the Veterans Law Practicum at the University at Buffalo School of Law, the current Chair of the Erie County Bar Association’s Committee for Service Members and Veterans’ Legal Issues, Chair of the VETCON Alliance, and a member of the NYS Discharge Upgrade Advisory Board.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 22, 2021 4:17 pm

2 thoughts on “Three Social Media Activities That Might Cost You Your Security Clearance”

  1. The problem is anything can be considered extremist content. I can post a simple Bible verse and it can be deemed “extremist” content. A friend of mine can post a photo of his new AR and that can be labeled “extremist.” Me saying we need to take back our govt can be labeled “extremist.” Nearly anything can be labeled “extremist.”

  2. As much as what is listed may help, there’s plenty more groups, websites, and other things that Cleared personnel could jeopardize their clearance over. Any site or group that advocates criminal activity, not just extremist/fringe groups. Applicants need to remember too that while Marijuana is legal in some states, it’s still not in Federal settings. Photos on Social Media of smoking could cause an inquiry. Same thing with some of the TikTok Challenges. Most questionnaires ask about things that someone could compromise or bribe you for. Social Media activity should be limited.

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