Reel Life vs Real Life: Social Media & Your Security Clearance

October 05, 2023

October 5, 2023 (ARLINGTON, VA) - The Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) today released a new Intelligence Insights paper, Reel Life vs. Real Life: Social Media and your Security Clearance that provides policy recommendations for the U.S. government to clarify how Trusted Workforce 2.0 and Continuous Vetting will address social media activities and how such activities will influence decisions regarding clearance eligibility.

Developed by INSA's Insider Threat Subcommittee, the paper evaluates the potential impact of social media activity on clearance applicants’ vulnerability to exploitation by malign actors. It further highlights the importance of information literacy for future clearance holders and the Intelligence Community’s (IC) recruitment pool. The paper then outlines the updated Department of Defense Instruction (DoDI) 1325.06 “Handling Protest, Extremist, and Criminal Gang Activities Among Members of the Armed Forces” and its role in governing social media use for servicemembers, while emphasizing the lack of an equivalent policy for cleared civilian personnel working in the IC and national security space.  

The questions that arise from this lack of guidance, the paper argues, can be clarified by updated policies that adequately reflect the risks intrinsic to today’s digital media landscape. It provides four key recommendations to the Director of National Intelligence, as the government’s Security Executive Agent (SecEA), to address the prevalence of social media and the assessment of personal online history during the clearance vetting process.

  1. Develop clearer criteria for assessing personnel security risks from social media activity.
  2. Update Security Executive Agent Directive 5 (SEAD-5) to inform employers and job candidates on the assessment of online conduct.
  3. Define reportable online behavior.
  4. Clarify how adjudication authority will weigh social media activity compared to other forms of behavior.

In conclusion, the paper finds that updated policies on social media use will improve both the initial adjudication and continuous vetting processes for security clearance holders. Clearer messaging will also allow industry employers to enhance their prescreening process and insider threat programs, leading to a more secure workforce across the IC.

Download the report!