Monday, 18 March 2013

Facebook Fail: the perils of social networking

Who remembers life before Facebook and Twitter? Social networking has become such a natural part of our lives that we now don't think twice about writing all our innermost thoughts online for all to see. I have Facebook friends I never actually talk to in real life and haven't seen since school, but I know everything that's going on in their lives, I've seen photos of their wedding and their new baby and I even know what they had for dinner last night.


Our behaviour on social networks like Facebook has a huge impact on how others see us. The content and frequency of our status updates, the links we share and the photos we post all give an idea of who we are and what we're like. Sometimes it's not accurate; I know quite a few people who have an online persona that's completely different to how they are in real life. And it can be used to our advantage - if we use it wisely. 

But the problem is sometimes we forget who else is going to see what we get up to online. Potential employers now check Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as a matter of routine before hiring anyone. With some sites like Facebook, there are security settings that mean you can keep members of the public from seeing your profile, but others, like Twitter, are completely public. Everyone can see what you write and how often - if a recruiter knows you're currently working but can see you're tweeting all day, that's not a good sign. Don't be like Connor Riley, who was offered a job by Cisco but then lost it after tweeting negative comments about the prospect of working for them.

Equally, you have to be careful about what you say and do online in case your current employer sees it. Complaining about your job, being rude about customers or just posting content that others might find inappropriate is a risky business. Here are some examples of people who suffered unforeseen consequences from their social networking:

Ashley Payne, a high school teacher from Georgia, was asked to resign from her job because her school saw photos of her drinking on Facebook. They felt the photos 'promoted alcohol use'.

In 2009, Kimberley Swann from Essex was fired after three weeks from her job as an admin assistant; she'd written on Facebook about how boring it was - even on her first day.

Cameron Reilly, a guard at Buckingham Palace, was sacked after he posted rude comments about Kate Middleton, because she didn't look at him as her car drove past.

Three Burger King employees from Ohio were fired after posting a photo showing one of them standing in two tubs of lettuce used in the restaurant. Although it was posted anonymously, the restaurant and consequently the employees were identified within twenty minutes.

All these mistakes were avoidable; just by taking a second to think about who might see their status, all these people could still be employed. But the problem with social media is that sometimes you don't have any control over what happens. Paul Marshallsea from Wales was sacked last week from the charity he worked for after footage of him heroically wrestling a shark in Australia went global. He was on extended sick leave from work and his boss was unimpressed, despite the universal praise he received for his courage.

The short version of this post is: nothing's private any more. Social networking has changed the way we communicate and the downside is once we've written something it's out there and we can't take it back. So check those security settings and think twice before updating your status, because you never know who's looking at them. It could be a recruiter. It could be your boss. Or, worst of all, it could be your mum...