May 6, 2012

Jobseekers should beware social media

Paul Grasso: In Perspective

---- — Social media. I don't get the fascination, but then I don't have an Internet connection at home, or a television, either.

The whole idea behind social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn is to make it easier for people to stay connected and to share information, photos and videos. It's a worthwhile purpose, but not without some risk; especially if you're a jobseeker.

Every well-informed jobseeker knows that it's common for prospective employers to conduct a Google search as part the hiring process. The employer enters your name into the Google search engine to see what comes up.

Some employers, however, are kicking it up a notch. The most controversial iteration of the Google search is that some employers are now looking at a candidate's social-networking sites. In fact, a relatively new startup has begun offering a service that can be bad news for some jobseekers. According to its website, the company Social Intelligence "runs social media background checks for potential job candidates, so the company can be alerted to potential problems or issues that might be considered contentious."

Others employers go as far as to ask for a candidate's password to the private portions of their social-media sites.

And therein lies the rub.

Where does "public" end and "private" begin? When it comes to social media, the line between public and private information is becoming fuzzier by the day.

According to Mashable founder Peter Cashmore, "Privacy is dead and social media holds the smoking gun."

As stated on its website, Mashable is "the largest independent online news site dedicated to covering digital culture, social media, and technology."

So Cashmore probably knows what he's talking about.

Over the weekend, I was in Burlington and heard a UVM co-ed comment, "public is the new private." "Public" versus "private." When discussing social media, it's hard to discuss one without referring to the other; they're like two peas in a binary pod.

But let's get back to asking someone for their password. That may be going a bit too far, even in an economy where employers are in the driver's seat.

At best, it comes dangerously close to being an invasion of privacy.

The key for me is that social media sites have "privacy settings." Privacy settings are there to keep everyone from seeing everything.

The operative word is privacy.

Some members of Congress feel the same way. Two Congress members have introduced legislation, The Social Networking Online Protection Act (SNOPA), that would make it illegal for an employer to ask for a job candidate or current employee's passwords in order to access their Facebook accounts.

The penalty would be, among other things, a $10,000 fine.

But maybe the real question is: Is anything on the Internet really private?

A friend of mine who is a chief information officer in Nevada told me "nothing posted online is private, regardless of passwords and firewalls."

He told me the saying in the industry is: "If it would embarrass your mother to read it, then it's better not to post it."

He went on to say that if you logged on to a social-media site at work, your employer probably has captured your password anyway.

In other words, there may not be very much private when it comes to public social networking sites.

As I said, I'm not a social networker, but there does seem to be a few common-sense precautions anyone, especially a jobseeker, should take when doing anything in the public domain.

It's crucial to maintain your online reputation as carefully as you would maintain your real-world reputation, that risqué photo or objectionable comment might make the difference between being hired or not.

And remember, people are often judged by the company they keep, so be careful whom you friend.

The bottom line is, don't let a short-sighted decision affect a potential opportunity. Social media may be a great way to stay connected, but keep in mind that you may not know who is accessing and reading your content.

Furthermore, just how much do you know about who is administering your online content, and just how much control do you have over how and where your content is stored?

Just sayin'.

Paul Grasso is the executive director of the North Country Workforce Investment Board, the counties' designated workforce development planning agency, and the North Country Workforce Partnership Inc.