He Googled me.
And what did he find?
Not much. A few journalism awards from college and books I’d written. He even found my Facebook page. But what he did not find was me doing anything embarrassing — and that was by design.
As we teach in college: Keep social networking sites tame. Once something is out on the Internet, it crawls all over the world, even on to the computer of a prospective boss.
People will find it. Important people.
“It only makes sense that someone who wants to know more about you will use social media to do so,” says Chris Brewer, an independent social technology strategist to companies such as Apple Inc.
“The tools for doing so are powerful and inexpensive, and most people are so free with the information they post that it would be disadvantageous — and maybe even unsafe — for a company or individual to pass on the opportunity ... When I assemble a team to create a new web service at Apple, the first places I go [are] Facebook, Twitter and Google ... Resumés are great, but they only tell a fraction of the story. The real stuff — the components of an individual’s character — [is] often found scattered around the Internet.”
And the Internet is littered with stories of those who have been caught posting a little too much. There’s the woman who applied for a psychiatry job, only to have her potential boss find drunken pictures of her on her Facebook page. And the police officer who posted pictures of himself stealing merchandise (he was fired and jailed).
“It boggles my mind what people will put out there,” says Mike Manzler, partner in Dinsmore & Shohl’s Labor and Employment Department. People should really think about what they’re putting on the Internet.”
Manzler, 45, does not have a Facebook page, but he knows the scary reality of social networks. So, is it legal for prospective bosses to search your personal social networking sites? Yes, it is.
“There’s nothing unlawful about doing it,” Manzler says. “It’s how you use it.”
What if an employer finds out more information than he or she wants to know?
“You could possibly open yourself up to discrimination claims,” says Allison Goico, an associate in Dinsmore & Shohl’s Labor and Employment Department. “The primary risk here is finding out things you’re better off not knowing.”
For instance, some things don’t jump off a resumé such as age, race or if the person is disabled. By looking at a social network page, an employer could learn a lot and a rejected potential hire could make a discrimination claim.
Both Manzler and Goico say that if a company decides to search the social network pages of prospective hires, there should be a set policy in place for it. They suggest having human resources do the research, so an employer doesn’t learn too much about the employee. And they suggest making the policy known throughout the company, especially to their recruiters.
Brewer, the social technology strategist, realizes the responsibility isn’t just on the individual. Your friends can post things on your Facebook wall. And they can post things about you on other users’ walls as well. A smart Facebooker will take the proper steps to insure maximum privacy.
“Facebook’s really improved their privacy controls,” Brewer says. “Now, you can control who can post on your wall, who can see wall posts by others on your profile. You can even take action to limit who can see your past posts.
“In any case,” he warns, “users of any website need to remember that unlike the spoken word, what you post on the web can be harvested, redistributed and stored by anyone.”
And that’s what makes social media so wonderful — and so frightening.
Ryan Clark is Social and New Media Editor at Northern Kentucky University. He is an author and former newspaper reporter.