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Online Privacy and Reputation in Job Hunting (Part 1)

If the most recent presidential elections of George W. Bush and Barack Obama should have taught us anything; it is that yes, what you did twenty years ago in your military service or whom you have associated with in the past, even casually or just in college, can come into public focus at any important point in your life. Even for those that may never aspire to be POTUS, what you do now without thinking can and will make a difference in your life—and may even haunt you for years. This is a more severe reality for all people seeking employment than in any other time in history as we are all now in the era of the Internet and social media. The newspapers and magazines from past generations eventually got thrown away, and there was something to the saying “Today’s news is tomorrow’s garbage wrapping.” Today, we don’t wrap garbage in newspapers even if we still buy an actual newspaper. News doesn’t get thrown out with the garbage daily and generally forgotten by next week. Today, today’s news is forever news. Even newspapers with news articles from former generations are being digitized and stored online available for anyone to search in an instant and read; so in today’s reality, even news from 1909 is now forever news in 2009. 

The good and bad news about the Internet is “everything” stays available forever somewhere even if something is taken down or deleted. Social media posts on Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, etc are mini-personal newspapers created by us with us as the featured headliner of every news story. General personal privacy will never mean what it once meant. Personal privacy and reputation is no longer something you don’t have to think about unless you get into trouble somehow or you are written about in a newspaper or magazine. Unless you can control the privacy settings of your 100 FB friends, and they can control the privacy settings of each of their 100 FB friends, which of course is impossible actually, your post or comment to a friend’s post has the potential with just 100 friends each of having 10,000 or more possible people looking at what you have said. If you each had only forty FB friends, the potential is 1,600 or more. This is even if you have set your privacy to be “Friends Only.” Any application you authorize is set to “Everyone” unless you specifically go to each application privacy setting and set the privacy for the application. Any page that you “Become a Fan” or group you join on social networks is set to “Everyone” and may be displayed with your public profile page. The privacy setting for every comment you make to fan or group page is controlled by the page or group, not your personal privacy setting.

What is posted about you or your own posts, tweets, or blog can be a silver bullet ricocheting all over the Internet being picked up by numerous websites, reblogged, and even possibly in results for a Google search under your name or the name of your social network friend. Your thoughts expressed in tweets, email, texts, social and professional networking site posts and comments go from you to a designated service provider’s server to the intended recipient(s). The recipients may save them and your service provider’s servers store them for up to six months. As Tiger Woods is finding out, nothing you send privately is really sacred, and loyalty can be fleeting in the Generation Me age. 

One of the phenomena of Generation Me is so many want to be famous having grown up in the culture of Paris, Britney, Lindsay, American Idol, A-Rod, and YouTube. The celebrity culture has permeated our high schools and colleges—and even our politics—in the United States with technology that allows everyone to easily seek their fifteen minutes of fame. And often, famous and infamous are interchangeable as bad attention is better than no attention. Anyone has the potential to become an overnight sensation by posting a video to YouTube doing something really great or doing something really stupid. Anyone can detail their minute-by-minute thoughts and actions with a simple tweet on Twitter or a post on Facebook instantaneously via their cell phone or computer. Many collect friends on Facebook or MySpace they have never actually met or even talked to in reality. Many seek Twitter followers to the intimate details of their daily lives. Many get caught up in the numbers game with friends and followers without much thought to it. Some, especially those not yet in the job hunting mode, are setting up a permanent record of “Well, I was young” mistakes. And just like the Lady GaGa tattoo they inked on their shoulder last week, they may look back on with regret two, five, even ten years from now as they go from Generation Me to the Generation I Need a Job group. In addition, those job-hunting of any generation may be wondering why HR Managers are not calling them to set-up an interview.

Many people see LinkedIn and similar all professional sites as the place to be conscious of potential employers and their professional image. In fact, it would make no sense to set privacy settings to “network only” if your goal is to have a strong professional online presence. People expect what they set up as their profile on LinkedIn to be their professional public profile open to everyone searching their name. It’s expected to have an Internet professional presence today to promote your standing in the competitive business world. Those who join professional sites want a public profile for the purpose of networking in the professional world. They want professional notice by anyone and everyone especially if they are job hunting. People are careful about what is posted and seen as reputation and work related. Yet even for professional social media networking privacy settings, group settings, network updates, comments on group discussions, connection settings should be reviewed. I raise my eyebrows when I think of Tripit announcing travel plans from a safety perspective. Both professional and personal social media network sites are now offering tying Twitter tweets to your updates on your profiles. This could be great for company or group profiles, but deeper thought and consideration should go into the pros and cons of this personally perhaps.