Skip to main content

Social media presence will now be part of the vetting process in U.S. immigration

Homeland Security booth
Image used with permission by copyright holder
The American immigration process is nothing short of strenuous. And now, it’s about to get even harder. As part of continued repercussions from the tragedy in San Bernardino, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is reversing previous protocols that prevented officials from examining visa applicants’ social media presences as part of the vetting process.

Now, as social media becomes an increasingly dangerous weapon in the hands of terrorists and other radicalized individuals, law enforcement agents will more closely examine the online activity of individuals seeking entry into the U.S. As per a Wall Street Journal report, the DHS will now “scrutinize social media posts as part of its visa application process before certain people are allowed entry into the nation.”

The decision to allow Tashfeen Malik, one of the San Bernardino shooters, into the U.S. seemed to represent a breakdown in security regulations, officials noted, especially considering the purported digital evidence of her allegiance to radical groups. In fact, the day of the deadly attack, Malik took to Facebook (under a pseudonym) to declare her loyalty to the Islamic State terror group and its leader. While it is still unclear as to whether she made similar public posts in the preceding period, law enforcement agents are now looking closely at her social media footprint to uncover further clues and perhaps prevent similar attacks in the future.

“It’s difficult to say exactly what [went wrong] and how, but for an individual to be able to come into this country –– one who the FBI has maintained had terrorist tendencies or affiliations or sympathies at least for a couple years, and then to propagate an attack like that on our own soil, obviously, I think it’s safe to say there’s going to be lessons learned here,” said State Department spokesperson John Kirby.

ISIS has long been known for its social media savvy, often using Twitter, Facebook, and other more surreptitious methods to recruit new followers and spread its gospel. Back in 2014, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson decided against allowing officials to examine social media profiles and messages, citing the possibility of “bad public relations” for the Obama administration as his reasoning.

“During that time period immigration officials were not allowed to use or review social media as part of the screening process,” said John Cohen, a former acting under-secretary at DHS for intelligence and analysis. He left the DHS in June of last year and now works for ABC. Johnson continues to head DHS.

“Immigration, security, and law enforcement officials recognized at the time that it was important to more extensively review public social media postings because they offered potential insights into whether somebody was an extremist or potentially connected to a terrorist organization or a supporter of the movement,” Cohen added. Now, the WSJ reports that the “DHS only looks at [social media posts] intermittently and as part of three pilot programs that began in earnest earlier this year.” But many lawmakers are urging for more sweeping measures to be implemented.

On Sunday, Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York called for more stringent social media checks. “Had they checked out Tashfeen Malik,” the senator said, “maybe those people in San Bernardino would be alive.”

Lulu Chang
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Fascinated by the effects of technology on human interaction, Lulu believes that if her parents can use your new app…
You’re probably seeing more social media propaganda, but don’t blame the bots
social media propaganda global disinformation study 2019 kayla velasquez 6xjl5 xq4g4 unsplash

Bots commonly shoulder the blame for social media propaganda, but a recent study out of the U.K. suggests not only that organized political misinformation campaigns have more than doubled in the last two years, but that bots take second place to human-run manipulation.

The Global Disinformation Order study, conducted by the University of Oxford, found evidence of social media manipulation by a government agency or political party in 70 countries, an increase from 48 in 2018 and 28 in 2017. The study has been collecting data annually since 2017, but suggests political propaganda has leveraged social media for the last decade.

Read more
How to make a GIF from a YouTube video
woman sitting and using laptop

Sometimes, whether you're chatting with friends or posting on social media, words just aren't enough -- you need a GIF to fully convey your feelings. If there's a moment from a YouTube video that you want to snip into a GIF, the good news is that you don't need complex software to so it. There are now a bunch of ways to make a GIF from a YouTube video right in your browser.

If you want to use desktop software like Photoshop to make a GIF, then you'll need to download the YouTube video first before you can start making a GIF. However, if you don't want to go through that bother then there are several ways you can make a GIF right in your browser, without the need to download anything. That's ideal if you're working with a low-specced laptop or on a phone, as all the processing to make the GIF is done in the cloud rather than on your machine. With these options you can make quick and fun GIFs from YouTube videos in just a few minutes.
Use for great customization
Step 1: Find the YouTube video that you want to turn into a GIF (perhaps a NASA archive?) and copy its URL.

Read more
I paid Meta to ‘verify’ me — here’s what actually happened
An Instagram profile on an iPhone.

In the fall of 2023 I decided to do a little experiment in the height of the “blue check” hysteria. Twitter had shifted from verifying accounts based (more or less) on merit or importance and instead would let users pay for a blue checkmark. That obviously went (and still goes) badly. Meanwhile, Meta opened its own verification service earlier in the year, called Meta Verified.

Mostly aimed at “creators,” Meta Verified costs $15 a month and helps you “establish your account authenticity and help[s] your community know it’s the real us with a verified badge." It also gives you “proactive account protection” to help fight impersonation by (in part) requiring you to use two-factor authentication. You’ll also get direct account support “from a real person,” and exclusive features like stickers and stars.

Read more