A couple of weeks ago the Federal Trade Commission quietly gave its approval to a background checking company that screens job applicants based on their online presence(s). While many professionals, especially those who should know better, namely those of us in IT, are already careful about what we post online, this new development reinforces what we’ve always said: Don’t post anything on the Web that you wouldn’t want your mother to see.
Deeming that the practices of the company in question, Social Intelligence Corp, are in fair compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting act is just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, Social Intelligence will keep your data in its files for seven years. And while it denies it will issue this data with new requests, just the fact that it has it will give some pause.
So what’s a poor social mediaphile to do? A couple of obvious yet oft-broken rules should be followed. First, avoid profanity. This is a rule that many have followed for years with respect to email, so it’s not that hard. The reasoning behind not using profanity in email is similar: You never know to whom that email is going to be forwarded.
Second, don’t brag about any criminal or socially unacceptable behavior. Many so-called fans in Vancouver recently got busted by bragging about rioting after their hockey team lost in the Stanley Cup finals. Even if you don’t get busted by the cops, it could end up in an employer’s file. And does a grown-up really need to brag about how many drinks he had at the UH tailgate?
Also, don’t be a social media suck-up. Many folks, aware of the visibility of their social media presence, broadcast activities extolling their virtues, such as self-improvement or charity work. If you aren’t really doing these things, don’t brag about them; you will eventually get caught.
Folks might think that they have secured their pages down to a point where only their friends can see the dirty info. Even seasoned IT professionals, however, mistakenly set their security such that the whole world can see their debauchery. Coupled with the ever-changing security settings on social media sites, it’s better to be safe and leave this stuff offline.
An easy way to check your settings is to set up a fake user and check your own profile from this fake user. Anything the fake user can see will be seen by the world.
While we’re not there yet, even sites that use aliases could be at risk. These include sports-related message boards, where "talking smack" could be seen in an unflattering light. It’s not unusual to see profanity-laced rants about an opposing team’s coach or star players. If these ever become attributable to real-life people, it could be extremely problematic, especially if taken out of context.
John Agsalud is an IT expert with more than 20 years of information technology experience in Hawaii and around the world. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org