More than 90 percent of hiring managers in the United States check job candidates through social media, according to some surveys.
Yet the U.S. government doesn't check those sites before granting the type of visa that enabled Tashfeen Malik to enter America.
Malik entered the United States in 2014 on a K-1 visa with the intention of marrying Syed Rizwan Farook. This month, they unleashed a terror attack in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 Americans. They died subsequently in a shootout with law enforcement officers.
On Sunday, The New York Times reported that, according to American law enforcement officials, Malilk "talked openly on social media about her views on violent jihad. She said she supported it. And she said she wanted to be part of it." (A relative contacted by the Times disputed the assertion by law enforcement officials and Malik's support for violence.)
Officials responsible for visa programs have cited four concerns about using social media as a screening device, even if it is only one tool in the toolbox: time constraints, potential for misinterpretation, abuse of privacy and federal policy.
The argument about time constraints is bogus. The K-1 visa process, which enables approved foreigners to enter the country and marry an American, is by all accounts substantive and lengthy: Searching social media would not add significant time or effort to the process, which grants a relatively small number of visas — 36,000 in 2014, including only four for individuals from Saudi Arabia (where Malik had traveled and attended school) and 519 from Pakistan (where Malik was born and interviewed by U.S. officials). What's more, many social media searches can be automated, and if the vast majority of private-sector hiring managers think a search is time well-spent, it probably is.
The potential for misreading statements is something to guard against but, as immigrants and their lawyers readily state, the process is already highly subjective. As for privacy: We're talking about social media here, where individuals voluntarily post their views and associations, not private communications.
The U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services, which approves the visas in question and green cards, has not resolved internal disputes over whether social media posts should be reviewed. John Cohen, a former Department of Homeland Security official, told ABC News on Monday that DHS refused in early 2014 to end a policy that "prohibited immigration officials from reviewing the social media message of all foreign citizens applying for U.S. visas." That official, John Cohen, is a national security consultant for the network; he attributed the policy to concerns over bad publicity associated with spying on Americans.
It's important to note that, according to the ABC News report, some officials said Malik used a pseudonym in her online messages. Furthermore, as terrorists have become more sophisticated, they are using fewer social media sites and more encrypted-messaging systems.
Nevertheless, it's clear that the Islamic State and other terror organizations — foreign and domestic — use social media to recruit and energize followers. In its visa process, America ignores social media at its own risk.
A version of this editorial first appeared in the Herald Tribune of Sarasota, Fla., a Halifax Media Group newspaper.
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Photo credit: Ted Eytan