Sharing detailed personal information on social networks not only influences career and networking opportunities but also increases the risks of becoming a fraud and identity theft victim.
According to Consumer Report Press Room (2012) 13 million people share personal information on Facebook without using privacy tools in order to filter their information and without knowing the impact of doing so. Users of social networks seek to socialize and share personal information with friends and family. Joining a social network brings the opportunity to meet new people and, potentially, make new friends based on similar interests. Because of the dynamic of meeting new people based on personal information, Facebook users are encouraged to share personal details of their lives, demographics, and so on.
Myron (2009) In Failing to Disclose Private Life on Facebook is a Social Suicide explains that Facebook users find very appealing to disclose personal information on their profiles. On the other hand, not sharing personal information also has a negative impact. Myron explains that most Facebook users are afraid that failing to share their personal information would create a perception that they are hiding something negative from society.
The more that social network users reveal about themselves, the more chances they will have to reconnect with old friends and meet new people who share similar characteristics and interests. Therefore, the functionality of social networks encourage people to intimately disclose their religion, age, address, birthday, name of family members, high school that they attend or attended, place of employment, political views, musical preferences, place of birth, and so forth. The instant gratification and adrenaline boost of making Facebook friends, getting likes in status, pictures, posts, and comments encourages people to disclose more about themselves. The more intimate and revealing the data is, the more exciting and popular people get.
Disclosing personal information is not limited to certain demographics. Quinn (2012) in Monaco Urges Students To Remove Drinking Photos explains that Tufts University President, Anthony Monaco, spoke to college students urging them to delete pictures that showed practices of binge drinking. Monaco was very concerned that future employment opportunities of college students could be at risk, since he understood that employers use Google to check the Facebook photos of potential job applicants.
Rawstorne (2012) in ‘We’re Not Ashamed’ Say The Binge-Drinking Girls Who Posted Their Antics On The Internet describes stories and shows pictures of several female college students that engage in the practice of binge drinking. Rawstorne explains that many young girls think that posting pictures of binge drinking on the Internet helps them gain popularity and respect from people of the opposite sex. Rawstorne collected several pictures from young girls that drink alcohol to the point at which they cannot even walk or stand up by themselves. College students engaging in the practice of binge drinking seem to think that alcohol is necessary in order to socialize.
Culbertson (2011) in Could Facebook Make Binge-Drinking Job-Friendly? writes that, according to a 2008 Career Builder survey, more than 20% of hiring managers check social networks in order to screen candidates, and they find more than 40% of potential job applicants have some connection to information related to alcohol and drug use. Culbertson suggests that Facebook is an enormous contributor to the practice of binge drinking. Furthermore, he also thinks that since binge drinking is so common in our culture and easy to find on the Internet, in the future employers will not take into account binge drinking habits when screening new hires. Culbertson also states that engaging in the practice of college binge drinking increases the chances of being involved in crime and sexual assaults. Ironically, Culbertson points out that even though college binge drinking is unhealthy and immoral, binge drinking is also necessary in order to socialize.
On the other hand, The Institute of Alcohol Studies (2007) in Binge Drinking Medical and Social Consequences reports that binge drinking produces brain damage, blood pressure issues, leads to accidents, violence, criminal behavior, intoxication, violence, crime, poor mental and physical performance, psychological problems, anxiety, and alcohol dependence among other problems. My questions would be, how could alcohol help socializing when it harms physical and mental health? In addition, how could employers become more permissive of the negative practice of binge drinking when it could cause them losses due to poor performance of their employees?
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (2012) asserts that college binge drinking is the most serious problem that affects college campuses. The Center for Science in the Public Interest writes, “44% of students attending 4-year colleges drink alcohol at the binge level or greater”. Unfortunately, pictures of students that engage in practices of binge drinking posted to Facebook could be immediately stored by hundreds of users and those pictures have the potential of causing problems months, or even years later. What could have happened if there were a couple of pictures of Barack Obama engaged in binge drinking? Could one picture of college binge drinking have had the power to ruin Barack Obama’s political career?
Goldberg (2010) in Young Job-Seekers Hiding Their Facebook Pages points out that a Microsoft Survey found that 79% of US hiring managers have used the Internet to assess job applicants.
On the other hand, Sunshine (2011) in How Companies Use Facebook To Hire And Fire Employees brings up the percentage of companies that rely on social media in order to make hiring decisions. Sunshine explains that 45% of employers use Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter in order to screen job applicants.
Even though reports show discrepancies about the different percentages of employers that use social media and the Internet in order to screen potential job applicants, what seems to be clear is, on the one hand, a continuous growing trend of companies using the Internet to screen job applicants, and on the other hand, pictures and information found on the Internet can affect job opportunities of any potential job applicant.
On some occasions, I have had the opportunity to interview potential job applicants. I have to admit that I have used Google in order to search for the name of some job applicants. Often I was looking for pieces of information that would help me find clues that would reveal the level of integrity of potential new hires. I strongly believe that the way in which a person conducts her or his personal life is a reference that helps determine if she or he has bad habits and poor judgment. If I see Internet postings of a job applicant showing or suggesting binge drinking habits, poor judgment, complaints, and gossip against previous employers, I would imagine that the job applicant, if hired, may arrive to work late on Mondays with a hang over, and he or she would have poor judgment on his/her work duties among other potential issues. How could I trust in an employee that could potentially cause so many problems?
Based on my experience, I would say that when companies look for new hires, they need to perform all kinds of data research in order to make sure they hire the best applicant. These newer hiring practices involve innovative techniques of research that may be considered invasive because they access personal data on social networks. However, I strongly believe that companies need to make sure that potential new hires will not put the reputation of the company at risk. The continual and growing trend of Human Resource managers using the Internet to screen job applicants tells me that companies will keep looking for any information including pictures, videos, or blogs, to determine work performance based on how a person has conducted her or his personal life. For instance, a manager of one of my previous employers admitted in a meeting that the Human Resources Department performed Google and Facebook searches with the intention of finding personal details of potential job applicants in order to make a more informed hiring decision.
In addition, pictures and online posts can affect not only potential new hires but also current employees. CBS News (2011) on Did The Interned Kill Privacy? reports that, Ashley Payne, a public school teacher was fired by her Superintendent because she posted a picture of her European vacation on Facebook holding a glass of beer on one hand and a glass of wine on the other. The Superintended alleged that a parent complained that the pictures of Ashley Payne were immoral and offensive to the students and the school district. After Ashley Payne won a lawsuit against the school district, she was able to get her job reinstated. Nevertheless, the case of Ashley Payne shows that social networks have the power of putting job stability at risk. Who wants to go through the hassle of hiring an attorney, going to court, being on the news, losing his/her job and hopefully getting his/her job back due to a Facebook picture or post?
Firing employees based on negative personal information posted on Facebook that goes against subjective moral principles and good judgment goes beyond the intention of taking care of the reputation of an institution. Employees have also been fired because they have expressed ideas or commentaries that may put in question the reputations of their managers. Greenhouse (2010) in Company Accused of Firing Over Facebook Post explains that an employee was fired because she criticized her supervisor on her Facebook page. The company alleged that the employee violated a policy that clearly established that employees could not negatively criticize or affect the company on any social media. The National Labor Relations accused the company of illegally firing the employee based on the legal grounds that employees have the right to jointly talk about working conditions, including management. One of the main elements at stake is defining the line between criticism against poor performance of management at work, and negative critiques about the personal lives of managers. The National Labor Relations advised employers to review their policies and procedures to assure that internal regulations do not restrain employees ability to exercise workers’ rights of discussing wages, working conditions, and unionization. The case is still under review, and it will certainly establish a precedent for future cases.
Firing employees based on comments is not limited only to negative comments made against internal management. Employees can also be fired if their negative comments put the reputation of the company or their revenues at risk. Depending on the circumstances, companies can have the legal right to terminate an employee based on the implications of a social networking. Rock (2011) in Apple Fires Employee Over Facebook Rants describes how Samuel Crisp, who was working as a ‘genius’ at the Norwich Apple Store, was fired because Apple discovered several angry posts in which he complained about the functionality of his iPhone, applications, and other negative aspects of the company. Rock explains that a U.K court granted Apple the legal power to proceed against employees when their posts on social networks damage Apple’s interests. Apple cannot only terminate employees but also sue them for potential loses. After the outcome of this case, companies now have a legal precedent that empowers them to fire personnel in order to preserve their reputation, avoid looses, and eliminate risks of potential law-suits.
Fox News (2011) reports in State Official Loses Job Over Tweet that Indiana Deputy General Attorney Jeffrey Cox was fired because of comments posted on a social network called Twitter. The comments by Jeffrey Cox explained his perspective on how Wisconsin law should handle pro-union demonstrations. The article explains that, while all citizens are empowered and encouraged to exercise the First Amendment Right of Freedom of Speech, public employees are subjected to higher standards in order to prevent conflict of interests.
Based on the cases of Jeffrey Cox, and Ashley Payne, we can determine that not only private companies but also public institutions such as schools and the legal branch also look for personal information of employees that may put their reputation, impartiality, or credibility at risk. We can determine that attorneys can be fired if an issue comes up online that may present a conflict of interest. We can also conclude that teachers can potentially lose their job due to pictures, blogs, comments, or posts that may bring in question their honorability, their ability to be a role model in their community, or cause a conflict of interest. In conclusion, if an employee shows on a social network that he or she is a not a respectable citizen by engaging in practices of, say, binge drinking, casual romantic encounters, or promiscuity, he or she will create situations in which a conflict of interest or damage of reputation can arise, thus putting at risk his or her job stability.
In the long run, the more users of social networks disclose about themselves, the more that they put their integrity, privacy, and security at risk, and the more they jeopardize their futures.
Rashid (2012) in Identity-Fraud Victims Are Smartphone, Social Media Users explains that there is a higher risk of becoming a victim of fraud and identity theft when social networks are used. Rashid explains in the report that social networking and mobile users had the highest incidence of fraud when using LinkeIn, Google+, Facebook and Tweeter.
Hastings (2011) quotes Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant, on his views about identity theft and Facebook: “The ability to access users’ home addresses will also open up more opportunities for identity theft, combined with the other data that can already be extracted from Facebook users’ profiles.”
Putting personal information on websites that make that information available to search engines is equivalent to publishing private information in public newspapers. Since social network information is available to users across the globe, social network users put themselves at risk not only to be victims of fraud committed by national crime organizations but also to be victims of identity theft criminals from all over the world.
Certainly, when it comes to protecting information and ensuring security, not only individuals, but also public and private institutions today face one of the greatest challenges in history – to protect personal information and privacy.
Gramma (2011) in Legal Issues in Information Security assures: “Protecting information isn’t easy. It is often expensive and time consuming to do well. The security of a system relates to the time taken to implement safeguards and their cost. Highly secure information systems take significant time and expense to create. If an organization wants to implement secure systems quickly, it must be prepared to spend money. If it wants to keep time and money costs low, it must be prepared for lower security.” Implementing mechanisms that protect information is not an easy task. It is often expensive, and it is not considered for any company a priority to invest in information security when there are no legal consequences to prevent. The enormous growth of users of search engines, social networks, and information technology has left little or no time to implement security information systems.
Having access to personal information is the main goal of identity theft. Criminal organizations obtain personal data in order to acquire credit cards, personal loans, lines of credit, and so on. Practices and attempts of obtaining personal information executed by theft and fraud criminals includes phishing, scams, fake websites, fake ads, and so on. Then, social networks become a target for criminals since all they have to do is to send a friend request and be accepted by the targeted social network user in order to gain access to personal data for illegal purposes.
Since detailed personal information on social networks can prevent people from getting the job of their dreams, can put at risk job stability, and increases the risks of becoming a fraud and identity theft victim, then, why should we take the risk of sharing our private information online?
About the author: Eduardo Hernandez Herrera is a web software developer, national award recipient of the 35 under 35 program by NSPRA. He holds a master’s in Education & Information Technology from Western Oregon University and he is pursuing a master’s degree in Digital Media Design at Harvard University Extension School.
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