Beware Facebook!

A recurring theme in the news recently has been dire warnings from those in the recruitment industry warning of the consequences of posting too much personal information on social networking sites such as Facebook.

Ina van der Merwe, chief executive officer of South Africa’s largest background screening company, Kroll, from an article in today’s IOL Technology says: We have had a number of instances recently where candidates passed all the elements of their background screening such as qualifications and criminal record checks with flying colours but lost out on the job opportunity because of vulgar or risqué behaviour on the Internet… In one instance, a female candidate with outstanding qualifications and great experience was not hired because she had a semi-nude picture of herself on Facebook.

This statement shows much that is wrong with society. It tells of unequal power relations between employers, doling out precious jobs to those fortunate few who please them, of having to act and wear masks to function in our day-to-day lives, and of hypocritical judgement on vulgar and risqué behaviour, whatever that is.

Sometimes I think as I get closer to my ideal world, I lose touch with the so-called real one. But I’d like to tell any employer who didn’t like my behaviour to get stuffed. I like the idea of the private and public world’s getting closer, and the personal being what counts. I would much prefer to see pictures of my employees tanked-up as they tango in a tangerine tutu with twenty-two transvestites, if that’s what counts as vulgar or risqué, than imagine them as a faceless, characterless automaton.

It all comes down to those power relations. If you’re not in a position to choose, and your potential employee might be offended, I can understand why you should be careful. But really, aim higher, and strive to find a role where you can be you, and not care about someone else’s perverted judgements.



  1. Good post Ian, one that is likely to encourage much debate as social networking grows in popularity. And even more so as the lines of using Facebook as a social or business networking tool continue to blur.

    It’s such a subjective issue. Even your own post about the *Camp debautchery ( could suggest ‘wrong doing’ – which we both know is nonsense.

    I do think that there is a requirement to start managing your personal brand online. The search marketers gave it a name and now charge to do it for you. Online Reputation Management (ORM) is a rapidly growing business..

    I personally don’t think the girl in question would be happy in an organisation that frowned on her behaviour. But if she is desperate – like all things, she will need to tow the line.

    Even I, with my fairly liberal standards, would be concerned about people not caring about how they present themselves – in today’s world it’s more important than what you wear to the interview imho.

  2. I definitely agree Ian. It is a very idealistic way to want to work towards, however the truth of the current situation is that reputation IS everything.

    Not only do future employers look towards your reputation to decide whether or not you’ll be a good worker/ influence and or team fit, it goes so much wider than that: potential clients / investors et al also look to your “perceived” reputation before doing business with you.

    FaceBook and other social media networks have definintely made the world that much more transparent. Previously we used to Google people, now not only do we Google people / companies, we look to their social profiles as well.

    Admittedly I do this too. But I will not let that influence my final decision should those candidates prove to have a great working ethic. What they do in their personal time is entirely up to them. Generally most people in todays world live by “work hard, play hard” ethic, so if you manage your work well, IMO your personal life is not my business. But there are not many people that feel that way, or can afford to feel that way, and for those people Reputation Management is vitally important.

    It depends on the nature of the company as well. For some corporates, having employees running around with “risque” behaviour, or perhaps being “bad mouthed” by someone else (blog, social site) to some extent could be directly damaging to the company’s reputation as their behaviour would be associated with the company’s profile. A simple example would be if you’re planning on seeing a movie or going to a restaurant, but the reviews of it was rated dismal by a cross section of 20 people – are you the type of person to still go and try it for yourself of do you follow the masses?

    Online reputation management is actually a service within the Online Marketing industry. Businesses as well as personal reputation especially in such a transparent online world is something that everyone should manage. And it’s not that difficult a thing to do.

    A simple way to start is by setting up Google Alerts on what you wish to keep track of and see exactly what is being put out into the netherworld…then respond as needed.

    Of course these reputation management campaigns have various levels of intensity, all depending on your “status”.

    It is an idealistic way of thinking to work towards, but until such time, its best to make sure your reputation is what you want to reflect.

  3. I always wear my normal clothes to job interviews, and my CV links back to its online version, which leads quite easily to my blog. I figure that if an employer is put off by either of these things (which I think are pretty tame), I’d be really miserable if I worked for them. Fortunately, nobody seems to care much how programmers dress.

    On the other hand, I use a pseudonym when posting personal stuff just about anywhere on the internet. This isn’t a bulletproof super-secret alternate identity, since anyone who goes to my site should be able to discover my real name fairly easily. I mostly do it so that googling my name doesn’t instantly tell the random googler all my personal interests; I find the idea of that slightly disturbing.

    This preventative measure should remove the later need for an “online reputation manager” — and I have serious doubts about the effectiveness of those organisations. There’s absolutely no reason for large public archives to comply with their requests to take down information, and I don’t think they should have that power. Once you’ve said something in public, in a forum where it naturally tends to persist forever, I don’t think you should have the expectation that you can take it back because you’ve suddenly realised that it makes you look bad. I have some sympathy for people who said stupid things on USENET before they knew that the information would be eternally preserved and made searchable, but anyone who is familiar with the modern internet has no excuse.

    (Googling my name does turn up some truly ancient archived mailing list posts. Fortunately there’s nothing overly embarrassing, other than the revelation that I once had to work with IIS.)

    I don’t put any personal information on Facebook. I don’t really like social networking sites; I’m only still there to look at photos and friend people back. 🙂

  4. I simply have to wonder why people allow their profiles to be public! I post a lot of info, including my mobile number, family photos and activities. My profile is only available for friends to view, and I vet who I add very carefully. As we have a group set up for our office, I often get managers asking to add me as a friend which I decline with a polite message to the effect that I’d rather not add them to avoid any conflict of interest (in case I bitch about work in my status, for example).

    If you really must have a public profile with dodgy pictures, set up a blog under a screenname that is advertised to friends only, where you can get away with whatever you like!

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