Bad behaviour for all the world to see: A thought on how social media might affect employment

So it was the end of my shift at work and I was taking a quick glance through Facebook while waiting something to eat. Between the obligatory pictures of people’s pet, distant parties, workout selfies and one awesome video of two kangaroos fighting in the middle of a school (with the usual “meanwhile, in Australia…” tag) were a whole heap of unusual posts and changes by one of my good mates. Strange stuff, like switching his gender from “he” to “she,” sharing a page about veganism, changing his profile pic and cover photo to something less than flattering and making it clear that he would no longer be shoving his thumb up his bum. This last one was quite clever, since it involved changing his employment status to “bum thumb” and then quitting it, thereby adding “Quit bum thumb” onto his timeline with a little comment. Now, the easy assumption to make is that his Facebook was taken over by someone that was not my mate. Maybe a tech-savvy enemy had broken through Facebook’s security to play havoc with his life. More likely he’d left his phone or computer unlocked and Facebook logged in and a cackling friend had gone to town. Where I come from both circumstances would be referred to as getting “hacked” so that’s the language I’m gonna use here. Now, he might not have been hacked. He might have become a transgender vegan since I last saw him a few days ago. I doubt it though. I mean transgender maybe, but vegan? No way, no how, no matter the preferred pronoun. I also can’t see him doing this to himself. So he must have been hacked. And that got me thinking.

One of the biggest issues that our generations moving forward are going to have to deal with is employers (current and prospective) going through our social media accounts and using that information to decide continued or prospective employment. It’s happening now, it’ll continue to happen, there’s nothing we can do about it. Except bitch and moan when an employer uses a picture from Facebook or Instagram of us passed out on the lawn surrounded by empty tequila bottles and a stolen hills hoist as an excuse to fire our drunken arses. Well, that and keep those pictures off the publicly viewable internet. If social media is an extension of an individual’s personality then companies have a right to base their decision upon whether or not that personality meets their standards, image and brand. On the other hand, do we as individuals not have the right to keep our personal and professional lives and views separate? But that’s a discussion for another time. What I began to wonder, and wonder if anyone else had begun to wonder, was if anyone had looked at a hacked account and decided that, no, this person isn’t for us?

Y’see, I spent a few years as a bank teller. Banks, you should know, care quite a bit about security and privacy. That meant not leaving personal information about clients lying where they could be seen (and preferably locking it away), not talking about our customers, changing our passwords regularly and, most importantly, logging out or locking our computers whenever we stepped away from them even if it was only one step. It meant that no one could access them when we weren’t looking, learn someone else’s personal details or deposit twenty grand that didn’t exist into their accounts. “Lock your computers” was a mantra amongst the management of most of the branches I worked at and failing to do so was a fast way to get in a lot of trouble. Fun times. And banks aren’t the only organisations concerned about security and privacy, just the one I was a low level customer service drone for.

Now companies and the people that handle employment are increasingly social media-savvy. Someone working for a corporate HR department would, looking through my friend’s Facebook page (and those of people like him) and guess, like I did, that he was hacked. That most likely he’d left his computer unlocked and his Facebook open and someone had taken the opportunity to take the piss. Now, let’s say this has happened obviously more than once. Might this HR person then conclude that (aside from not having mates who necessarily have their best interests at heart) this person has bad habits regarding their own security and privacy? Poor security awareness? Maybe. Maybe that otherwise harmless joke costs them an interview, under the assumption that bad personal habits make bad professional habits.

I’m not saying this does happen now. I’m not an employer, I’m not interviewing anyone, I’m not working for a company that seems to worry about employees social media accounts, I’m careful about what I post anyway. I can’t say I’ve heard about this happening to anyone yet so maybe I’m just, as I said, overthinking. But as social media comes to dominate more and more of our private and professional lives, we’re going to have to think about things like this. Because other people already are.

So, y’know, maybe next time you see your friend’s left his computer unlocked and Facebook open don’t declare their new found sexuality with a bunch of homophobic slurs. It might make them look bad in more ways than one.

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