National Security Leak Could have been Prevented with a Social Media Check
Should you check an applicant’s social media accounts before making a job offer? The general consensus these days is yes, and current events have just given us a clear example of how skimping on this step can cause a mess for employers.
Reality Winner, a 25-year-old Air Force veteran, was hired as an analyst with top secret clearance by government contractor Pluribus International Corporation. She worked in a federal facility in Georgia, and was arrested earlier this week for allegedly leaking classified information from a National Security Agency (NSA) report to a media outlet.
Winner was hired by Pluribus in February with a solid work history and fluency in three languages. But what the HR department seemingly failed to do was check out their applicant’s social media accounts. Had they done so, they would have discovered a Twitter account under the name Sara Winners, with Reality’s picture, that showed nothing short of contempt for the president and his administration.
Here are some examples of her posts before she started her new job:
There were even a few we couldn’t post because the names she called the president are just not fit to print.
Obviously, in most cases, someone’s political views are NOT a valid reason for denying them a job. In fact, making that decision might get you sued. But some of the posts above likely would have raised some alarms considering the sensitive information Winner had access to.
According to our social media partner Fama, if her employer had done a social media check, they should have been less concerned with the nasty commentary about the Commander in Chief and, instead be focused on the things she liked, followed and re-tweeted. These clearly show affiliations with several anti-government and hacking groups.
According to Fama CEO Ben Mones, connections with these groups, as well as the fact that she used a different name on the Twitter account, are serious red flags. “Usually on Facebook or Instagram you see people promoting their real selves, not really thinking about how their pictures will be perceived in the business arena,” says Mones. “But by changing her name on the Twitter account she shows a conscious act. She knew that what she was posting would not be received well. She probably even knew that her posts were being monitored because of her national security position.” Mones likens this to a burglar trying to hide footprints or wipe away fingerprints after a robbery to throw authorities off their track.
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But how could an HR representative be expected to find that Twitter account with the fake name and know it belonged to their applicant? They couldn’t, according to Mones. He explains that their software can find things that are not apparent to the human eye. Using this case as an example, Fama would have searched Reality Winner’s accounts, and by scanning millions of pictures on the internet would have matched pictures of her on Facebook or Instagram to the Twitter account. He says they see this all the time with job applicants putting their middle name on job applications hoping to throw off various types of background screening.
According to Fama, most employers are not concerned about pictures of applicants partying on their social media accounts. Instead, they are looking for things like bigotry, misogyny, anarchy or other things that go against their company culture.
The federal government started rolling out social media check programs in May of 2016, but a check of job listings at Pluribus International shows that while some jobs require top secret clearance and polygraph testing, there is nothing about a social media screen. After the Winner situation, it might be a good time to consider adding this to their screening process.