The Impact of Social Media on Security Clearances

February 15, 2024
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

Love it or despise it, social media has become a part of our daily lives. We use it to communicate with friends and family, share our thoughts, and broadcast details of our daily lives. For those with security clearances, however, social media can raise numerous questions about how it may impact their career. If you have questions about how social media could impact your security clearance, a federal security clearance lawyer can provide you with the guidance you need. 

What Is Considered Social Media? 

Under federal guidelines, the definition of “social media” is much broader than many people expect. In fact, it really is viewed in terms of “online activity,” to include the following: 

  • Popular social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, X, and LinkedIn
  • Picture and video-sharing services such as YouTube
  • Online commerce websites such as eBay
  • Dating websites and apps such as and Tinder
  • News and media sites that allow users to post comments

Even your shared Spotify playlists may arguably be subject to scrutiny. That said, it is important to note that only “publicly available” information is subject to review. The government cannot require people who are applying for or holding security clearances to provide their passwords or disclose their usernames. 

Some Confusion and a Word of Caution for Federal Contractors

We should also note that the regulations permit, rather than require, the monitoring or collection of online information if it is considered to be relevant to the employee’s security clearance. As a result, there is some confusion among agencies as to how the regulation should apply in individual cases, and as a result, many agencies are reluctant to make determinations based on social media. However, employees who work for federal contractors should be aware that their employers may scrutinize their online activity more aggressively as they are free to develop their own policies to ensure compliance.  

What You Can Do to Protect Your Clearance

While even private sector employees should be mindful of what they do online, employees with security clearances can face particularly harmful consequences in the event of an issue. The good news is that there are some fairly easy things you can do to protect yourself: 

  1. Set all of your social media profiles to “private.” As noted above, the government does not have the authority to gain access to your private social media accounts. Anything that is posted publicly, however, is fair game. Take the time to dig through the settings of each social media network you are on to make sure that only those in your network can see what you post. 
  2. Consider who you connect with. While setting your profile to “private” will help, any mistakes that you make will be known if you connect with co-workers or supervisors. Otherwise, any inadvertent disclosures would be undiscoverable by your employer. While you are at it, you should unfollow anyone whose life or posts could jeopardize your clearance. If their profile is public, their posts are subject to review. 
  3. Think before you post. The goal, of course, is not to be able to disclose sensitive information. Setting your profile to private and being deliberate about who you connect with is so that you can control the damage in the event that you make a disclosure that you shouldn’t have. It is far more important to be careful about what you post than where or who you post it to. 
  4. Conduct a social media audit. To the extent possible, go back through your social media posts and remove anything that could be potentially sensitive or jeopardize your security clearance. 

If you have questions about your online presence and how it relates to your clearance, it is always better to seek guidance from a security clearance lawyer before there is an issue.

Common Social Media Mistakes for Clearance Holders

Sharing classified information is obviously prohibited, but here are some of the more common mistakes that can trigger scrutiny for your security clearance: 

  • Sharing or posting NSFW images and content
  • Taking pictures while at work, particularly that would disclose your location 
  • Posting about your job
  • Posting about political topics
  • Posting during work hours
  • Accessing social media with work-issued devices or on agency networks

Issues with Your Security Clearance? Contact the Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

Your security clearance is the foundation of your career. If you have questions or issues, we can help you get them resolved. Call us today at 410-514-6099 or contact us online to schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help you keep your clearance.