On declaring your social media presence in a visa application

Someone asked me my opinion on US visa applications now asking for social media handles:

“It’s complicated, and a lot depends on execution and timely review.

If there were a 9/11 style attack planned in the future, you can be sure the attackers would have some evidence of their ideologies on their public social media.

Similarly if you’re looking for a long-term visa but have an publicly anti-american philosophy, you’re probably going to be more trouble than it’s worth. There are probably other cases not obvious to us.

  • But the potential for misuse is vast. The system is opaque to the applicant and there is little/no way to appeal:
  • You could be prevented from traveling to participate in a protest if you have publicly written about it
  • Or from speaking at a conference on a topic the current administration does not encourage (climate change?) if it’s found you’re a better-known person in the community than is commonly known
  • Or you could be a victim of insensitivity about cultures. I can easily imagine someone who publicly posts ayats about life/temperance from the Quran, maybe typing in nastaliq, that to the average low-pay ICE employee look like extremist ideology even after translation
  • Similarly, if you’re a rockets/space enthusiast and post your photos of PSLV/GSLV launches because you’ve travelled there to watch the lift-off, you could be mistaken for a dangerous nutjob
  • Worse still is that lack of a social media presence (I don’t have Facebook or Instagram accounts) could be grounds for rejection. There have been cases of people who have wiped their phones because they did not want to hand over their passwords and their photos at the US border, who were detained for hours and pressured to hand everything over. There are tools made just for this and they invite more trouble than they solve.

It’s conceivable that there are regular review processes within the Homeland Security department for rejections, but the broader the review is (ie public) the better it will be. I certainly know that the DHS has incredibly powerful tools at its disposal, including Palantir.

But because I don’t know anything about the actual technologies and review policies, I don’t have a position on this.

  • ps:
    • The most common argument in favour of these is that if you don’t have anything to hide why do you have anything to fear. This is easily refutable: because I don’t know how you will judge me. My browsing history, my credit card purchases, my salary, my movements around the city on a given day – they’re all secret because there are real world consequences to people around me – my employer, my friends, the police – and in this case the DHS – knowing about them even if I have not broken laws.”