The US government announced today that applicants requiring a visa to enter the U.S. must turn over
- All social media account IDs used during the past 5 years, even if since deleted.
- All names, phone numbers and email address of yourself, your siblings (including adult siblings!) and children used during the past 5 years.
- Detailed 15 year biography, including identifying each country you may have visited, when you visited, and how your trip was funded.
- Failure to provide accurate information is grounds for visa denial.
Most people can’t remember the information that is being requested. Further, that the U.S. is requesting account data going back 5 years, even for deleted accounts, means that the U.S. government admits it has used surveillance to log all phone calls, emails and social media posts of everyone, world wide, for the past 5 years.
A likely consequence of this is that other countries will now require that U.S. citizens provide similar information when applying for a visa to visit those countries.
What does this mean for social media?
A great many people, particularly young people, may have no idea what they posted – or more importantly – who they have friended on social media over the years.
For example, because of my personal interest in 3D photography, I have social media friends in Russia, China, Mongolia, Iran and many countries who share an enthusiasm for 3D photography. Because some of the countries are considered “evil” by the U.S. government, do I need to prune my friend list?
Over the past few months, I deleted all of my Tweets going back years so that I only now publicly display the last 90 days of tweets – anything older is auto-deleted. I deleted my Instagram and SnapChat accounts. I went through all of my Facebook posts and deleted nearly all posts, likes and shares, more than a few months old.
I am not trying to hide anything. The problem is that people with wild imaginations can conjure up conspiracy theories based on one’s friends, the topics that interest us online and more.
What impact will these government measures have on social media? I would predict that there will gradually be fewer posts, better use of “privacy” settings, and pruning of friend lists. In effect, a lot of people will start engaging in self censorship, including U.S. citizens – because we have no idea what the rules are for evaluating our friend lists or how our posts will be interpreted and evaluated.
The 1st, 4th and 5th amendments to the U.S. Constitution have largely been suspended.