Or have they? It’s not just the rich and famous who wind up caught on video. With millions of cell phone cameras, security cameras, traffic control cameras, amateur videographers and really fast painters, any one of us regular folk could find plenty of embarrassing moments out there.
But more importantly is how we are affected by this whole internet thing. It’s about the closest thing we really have to that “permanent record”. Remember in school when you screwed up, they always said “this will go on your permanent record.”
So, as someone who has probably shot himself in the foot more than once with one of my famous posts, emails, tweets or what have you, I set about to see what folks had to say about whether or not things you say and do online can come back to haunt you.
Most people seemed to think the answer was a resounding yes and I also received lots of links to articles and blogs that help point out just who and what some of the big offenders were. I also received quite a few examples of some smaller, less obvious foot-in-mouth situations and even a couple of scenarios that while in fact seem innocent enough, could came back to kick someone in the butt.
Sheila Etheridge, a business management and accounting consultant had this to say when I wondered if one could get themselves in trouble by saying or doing something online. “Of course it is true if the person allows the worlds to see them doing things that are frowned on by society or that are illegal. But I also think an employer owes it to the person to first check and make sure the page even belongs to that person. “
This brings up another very good subject or subjects, how can one be sure that who they are researching online is indeed the same person they are meaning to. For example, in my case you wouldn’t think there are too many J.S. Gilbert’s floating around, so that there might be a tendency to think anything attributed to a J.S. Gilbert would be referring to me. Well, there are a few J.S. Gilbert’s out there; there’s me, another one who is a noted volcanologist and a third who is a doctor. There are also a few others who are very much in the past tense. But wait, there is another J.S. Gilbert and he is a writer. Turns out he pretty much only uses J.S. Gilbert for his bylines and unfortunately, because I am also a writer, I sometimes get confused for him. Perhaps vice a versa, but since I’m a much better writer, this can only work in his favor. And yes, I have written him and asked him to try some other variant for his name, but to no avail. I pointed out that my first published piece occurred before his birth, which hasn’t seemed to make any difference either. So, I can only hope that he gets blamed for one or more of the stupid things I’ve done in my life and that he manages to keep off of Megan’s list.
The other point this brings up is “identity theft”. Not necessarily the kind designed to get credit cards in your name, but one where a vindictive person goes to the effort of establishing a presence online with your name and some additional relating characteristics in an effort to discredit abuse or otherwise make your life miserable. Or someone may pose as a consumer watchdog group or simply concerned gentry and pop up online posting and tweeting all sorts of nastiness about you. Businesses are and will continue to spend millions of dollars combating all forms of false and malicious statements, some of which made by competitors or disgruntled ex-employees.
Alec East, a U.K. advertising friend, offered “It’s all down to the person. There’s been a number of horror stories including those linked below. Only yesterday I saw a very public, gloves-off, cock-fight between named advertising creatives that took place in the comments of a blog. You could say it was disappointingly naive and highlighted the lack of understanding of social media in many ad agencies – but I just got a huge case of schadenfreude instead and watched the car-crash unfurl.
I learned my lesson back in 1996 when I added a jokey entry in a freelance web-directory. I won’t go into details but my amusing prose didn’t appear quite so funny when viewed shortened & out of context. e.g. in (hotbot’s) search results! If you Google my name now the first page and a half are mostly about me and SFW.
Not everyone wants that kind of visibility though and I respect that, but they have to accept that they can’t be a player if they’re not in the game. For a freelancer, especially in PR, marketing or any digital discipline, that’s likely to affect their prospects.
He presents us with a very interesting link.
Perhaps this is an extreme example and for the average individual it may have more to do with who they are, the work they do, the groups they socialize with or age and demographics.
Loren Hicks says “There is a demographic angle to this. I know very few people under 30 who are not on Facebook, many with fully public profiles. And most are on Twitter, as well. The boundaries on what is acceptable to present publicly are broadening quite rapidly. Wired people are much more easy-going and forgiving about postings that would have gotten someone fired ten years ago (and still do, in some quarters).
This is a social groundshift. More and more people are refusing to be quiet and “kept in their place”. During this transition, firms that become known to take the hard line will have retention and hiring problems with creative people, especially younger ones. A few firms that depend on a stodgy image (global accountancies, for example) will have no choice but to suffer from this more than they already do.
For me, finding out that people are occasionally foolish is not news, since it has always been true. And, if someone has some chronic behavioural issue of some sort, I can usually see that without having to go to Facebook.
If you are in the technology, advertising, new media, or related industries, the reality is you have to be socially networked. You simply are not credible if you aren’t. Whether or not your personal space gets monetized. And if you project an unrealistic view of yourself online, it will show. This should not bother you if you have the basic social skill to hide what you must (which you have already done in your offline life).
But if you don’t have this basic skill, you will hurt yourself online. But then you must have already been doing that in the rest of your life, so you probably have some coping skills for the consequences.”
Stupid is as stupid does? Is it just that this phenomena is so new and people haven’t developed the appropriate skills to prevent themselves from exhibiting foot in mouth disease or is it that many simply don’t care. In the immortal words of Popeye, “I yam what I yam and that’s all what I yam.” Personally I wonder if Popeye would have avoided public criticism for “juicing” if he were around today on Facebook.
Duane Meece also thinks there is a need for people to protect themselves. “As others have said, there is a demographic angle to some social networking sites (aka: Facebook). There are also growing issues for companies dealing with privacy laws. A fine line exists what is “actionable” and what isn’t for online content. Someone makes a comment on Facebook about thinking their boss is stupid and ignorant. Is that actionable? Some companies say yes, others aren’t so sure. on a social networking site DO see that information can often remove potential scrutiny. “
One aspect I have personally found over the years is, honestly, stupidity. By that I mean, you can have a profile on Facebook. You can even be linked with co-workers thru it. However, taking the time to setup a privacy setting so that while they might be able to communicate, people from work can’t see pictures you post…can be a big thing.
By taking some proactive steps to ensure that only people who want to see your information
Duane offers us this link
But perhaps this is just a modern retelling of the famous story of the man who calls in sick and goes to a baseball game only to be seen by his boss while watching the game on t.v. Are social networks simply replacing some of the older ways we would get ourselves into trouble? There’s a long list of radio and t.v. personalities who got the boot and worse for stupid things they said and did. In a world that by some estimations is overly politically correct, does this just represent another aspect of Darwin’s law?
Hadara Alook, San Francisco, has some firsthand experience of the “Big Brother” aspect of the internet “22% Of Employers Check Your Facebook Profile; 1/3 of which reject candidates because of their FB” (see link)
I was recently asked for my twitter ID during a phone interview. I thought it was great. Well, it can be wonderful if you are projecting a professional image on your twitter or any other social media channel account. If you are not prepared – it could be the point where you lose that job.
Hadara provides us with both a link to business insider and to her personal blog
If it isn’t happening now, I would expect more of the forms and applications we are required to fill out will have spaces for our Twitter ID’s, Facebook info and other web affiliations. There’s no way of telling what the next great social network phenomena might be and who will be impacted by it, but we all seem to know of people who use a Google search to help weed out unwanted candidates for an open position. I was speaking about this article to a group of people and one freely volunteered that she had done a search on several people who had applied to rent an apartment from her. Not a credit search or even a search to see if they had been in prison, but simply to get an idea as to what they were about and if they might make good tenants. One of the applicants had a number of references in their various profiles to motorcycles and tattoos, while another had some family recipes and gardening tips. You can guess who got the rental.
I received back numerous responses to this topic, almost none of which would debate the importance now and in the future for people to have a web presence. Many expressed outrage over how this new “gauge of performance” might bring forth a punitive action. Others offered up that under no circumstances is it okay to talk about your boss being an idiot and if you do, you get what’s coming to you. (Perhaps I’m lucky that I’m self-employed.)
Lots of the folks responding to my question had similar answers. Most falling into the category of “use some common sense”. Or “Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want to get back to you.” Others, while simple, often showed a depth of understanding for the issue.
Gianluigi Cuccureddu said “Sure one can hurt him/herself by participating in social networks. Humans are humans, and people do business with people, not businesses.
Within the transparent character of the Internet, it’s better to be held to constant scrutiny and publicly do something with it, then remain behind barriers.
The target audience will demand its influence, also their influence is precious, look also from that point of perspective.
Do participate, be it hard and/or unpleasant.
Gianluigi, as with Loren Hicks earlier answer and the answers of many others, seem perhaps to be saying that we need to challenge the conventionalism of the internet and to (perhaps by being bold) take risks with social media. Surely there are and will be many people attracted to those whose web presence is defiant or irreverent, perhaps even antagonizing. As we develop new ways of doing things, so comes new rules.
While it’s true that common sense will help in many cases, it’s also true that social media is made up of all kinds of people; good, bad and indifferent.
Here is what Bob Kalsey had to say on the subject: Social networking is an exercise in personal branding. Some people recognize that fact, some don’t. Our self-maintained image on the Web rarely represents who we really are, but how we want others to perceive us: who we wish to be. Even those who think they are completely honest, open, and – the current hot buzzword – “transparent,” are just kidding themselves.
I think that people – and institutions – are beginning to understand that personal postings are a form of brand management, and to discount them accordingly. Just like everything else on the Web, the contents of social networking sites are best consumed with a little skepticism and a healthy sense of humor.
Certainly, people do and say dumb things — in real life and on the Internet — but I think people are becoming more savvy (young people especially), about the persistence and visibility of Web postings. Kids make mistakes, it’s true, but they learn from them.
The greater problem for individuals is postings that are beyond one’s control: photos, for example, published by our “friends” and tagged with our names. Many people are clueless about the damage they might do or the embarrassment they might cause to others by what they post online. And some folks post malicious material on purpose, believing they can hide behind the anonymity of the Web.
There always have been and always will be malicious people, clueless people, and careless people. Now though, malice, ignorance, and imprudence are a little harder to hide and more difficult to recover from. One can certainly hurt oneself, but innocent people can also be hurt by others – intentionally or not. Eventually, the Web may become a more civil place. But I once thought that about tee-vee talk shows.
And our friend Spencer Hudson offers a bit more of a formal approach taken in the U.K. on the problem, with the flowing:
YES … social networks can cause you big problems …
If you want to know what HR people think about it check out the UK’s Charted Institute Professional Development (CIPD) website … They state:
“The publication of material on Facebook opens up a new way of disseminating personal information – or having it disseminated about you. The dating of the posted pictures would be important as they might have been taken at an earlier date. Facebook provides details of when pictures were posted, not when they were taken. But if they were taken on the day in question, they might provide evidence or at least the ‘reasonable belief’ required in employment terms. One contributor observes that comments detrimental to a company’s image which are posted on Facebook could certainly be challenged when they have been made available to the general public and not just a person’s ‘friends’. Others discuss the employee’s privacy and whether the pictures have actually been seen by the employer or have merely been reported. One contribution makes the point that wherever misconduct is suspected, a full and thorough investigation should be undertaken. ”
I’m not sure if there is any conclusion one can draw except to say that this is a very real and personal issue. Each of us needs to develop our own personal moral compass, but just as how today’s teen with the tattoos on his face is considered, one wonders how tomorrows 40 year old with the same tattoos will be looked upon.
I would like to thank the very many people who responded to my question via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. The bulk of these responses are from LinkedIn and you can find the original question and all of the answers at: http://www.linkedin.com/answers?viewQuestion=&questionID=470209&askerID=964607&goback=%2Ehom%2Emid_1174800210