- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Young people, beware: That drunken selfie on your Facebook page or obscene rant on your Twitter feed could come back to haunt you — by killing your job prospects. So says the country’s top military officer.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, said Wednesday that young people need to take care about what they post in social media because today’s bad behavior can cause tomorrow’s job rejection, even in the military.

“I worry about the next generation of young men and women who are now in their teens, early teens, who probably underestimate the impact of their persona in social media and what impact that could have later in life on things like security clearances and promotions,” Gen. Dempsey said during a veterans conference in Washington.

The general said Pentagon officials have long considered giving overexposed would-be recruits a second chance to distance themselves from their youthful indiscretions documented online.

“We’d build the future all-volunteer force on the basis of getting a second start,” he said. “We’d say to young men and women, ‘You know what? You probably exposed some things in your social media persona … that would disqualify you, actually, from service. But we’re going to give you a shot to start over.’”

** FILE ** Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
** FILE ** Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of ... more >

Military officials later said that Gen. Dempsey was expressing employers’ frustration over the anything-goes atmosphere of the Internet, and that no formal amnesty plan is in the works.

Businesses already have begun using social media to screen candidates or fire employees who behave badly, but now defense officials say it can affect one’s military career.

“We’ve seen it happen,” a Navy official said. “For example, if you maintained a hateful online profile, or ran a Twitter account that was discriminatory or against the core values of the service, we could make a decision to not allow you to come in or to push you out.”

Such behavior has included posting pictures of young people engaging in underage drinking, illegal drug use and being in places they shouldn’t be.

“Don’t be lulled into the false sense of security, that you only shared things among your friends,” the official said. “You’re closer to people on Facebook than you think, and your conduct, good or bad, is not protected in social media.”

According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, more than three-fourths of teenagers have a cellphone and use online social networking sites such as Facebook. Educators say children have used their mobile phones to post everything from videos of school drug searches, to nude images of girlfriends or boyfriends. Most parents, they say, have no idea.

Evan Lesser, managing director of ClearanceJobs.com, said there are three main categories of online behavior that can disqualify someone for a security clearance: illegal behavior, criminal acts and poor judgment.

Illegal behavior might include activities that seem innocuous, such as downloading or sharing copyrighted material, he said. Criminal activities include hacking into someone else’s online accounts, committing online fraud and identity theft.

A more common infraction is poor judgment, such as posting pictures of anything embarrassing that could later be used against someone, Mr. Lesser said.

Such postings don’t necessarily disqualify a candidate for a security clearance, but they can be used as part of an examination of the whole person or to corroborate something said during an interview, he said.

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