Online and on the lookout: Social media missteps can haunt careless posters and tweeters
With the abundance of information we post to social media sites, our online reputations are becoming just as important as our real world reputations.
How one chooses to use various social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn could benefit or harm his chances of receiving a job offer, getting accepted into a university or winning a civil suit, among other things.
And, while users can delete Facebook posts and tweets, one never knows who has already shared those images or captured those posts with a screen shot. And, in many cases, negative online posts can come back to bite.
According to a 2012 survey conducted by CareerBuilder.com, 37 percent of employers use social networks to screen potential job candidates. And one third of hiring managers who do so said they have found information that’s caused them not to hire an applicant.
“I think it goes for any type of employer, you just want to see what’s out there,” said Lt. Jim Remer of the Grand Forks Police Department. “If you as an employer, all you can find are all these pictures of this person at different parties and obviously intoxicated, I think that’s going to raise red flags for any employer.”
The owners of Kittson in Grand Forks said they also screen candidates via social media, but they said the content of one’s profile would not be a deciding factor.
“Social media, however, allows us to get a brief introduction to who the individual may be, their interests, hobbies or past work experience — all things that could be explored or further discussed during an interview,” said co-owner Nicole Johnson.
Tami Martin, director of human resources at Black Gold Farms in Grand Forks, said it’s part of an employer’s due diligence to screen applicants’ search results and social media sites, but she said it should be done only after the interview has been conducted.
She said when employers visit potential employees’ social media sites, they have information available to them that they wouldn’t normally have on an application or resume such as: the applicant’s gender, sexual orientation, race and religion.
If a hiring decision is made off of that information, it can be classified as discrimination.
Discrimination cases aren’t the only ones where social media can play a part.
Heather Wages, a Grand Forks attorney with Camrud, Maddock, Olson & Larson, said the public should know that their social media accounts can and will be used against them in court if their posts are pertinent to a case.
Wages works mostly in family law, dealing with divorce and child custody cases. She said it’s usually in custody cases — when the court is looking at what’s in the best interest of the child — that social media becomes an issue.
“The person might say ‘Instead of using time with their child, I have this Facebook post that I found, where they’re bragging about being out with friends,’” Wages said. “And, it can be admissible, especially in a civil case like that.”
Remer added that social media also can be used as evidence in criminal cases pertaining to illegal drug use, harassment or sexual predators.
“It’s just another avenue of information for us,” he said.
Aside from photos, Wages said she’s heard of cases where someone’s “check-in” through Facebook or Foursquare has been used against them in court, as well.
“Basically, you’re admitting you were at a certain place at a certain time,” she said.
She said what we post on social media often portrays a different side of our personalities that we might not want to discuss in court. And, if someone’s posts go against what he is trying to say in court, it can be used as evidence.
But, for social media posts to be admissible in court, the post needs to be directly related to the case, and it needs to be authenticated, which means it has to be connected to the correct user.
“With social media, there’s some argument that it can be falsified easier,” she said. “But lots of times, if you post something on Twitter, and it says your name very clearly, it can be pretty easy to get into evidence.”
But, one’s life can be affected by social media posts outside of court, as well.
Like many employers, a survey conducted by Kaplan Test Prep found that more university admissions counselors are taking to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for help deciding whether a student should be admitted into their schools.
Representatives from UND and Northland Community and Technical College in East Grand Forks said they don’t prescreen applicants during the admissions process, but there are cases when a student’s online reputation might be looked into.
Mary Fontes, dean of student affairs at Northland, said when students enter into specific programs such as nursing or child development, they often sign a statement of understanding about what behaviors are appropriate. If their actions on social media go against that agreement, they can be held accountable. And, she said the consequences can be anything from a verbal warning to expulsion from the program.
“A student was making comments about a site, and that was in direct violation of the contract that student had signed,” she said. “That directly impacted that student’s ability to continue on in the program.”
She said there have been several similar cases, and they often act as a teaching moment for the students that they really need to read the fine print and watch what they post.
The same goes for high school students, especially those involved in sports.
East Grand Forks Senior High Principal Brian Loer said he deals with issues four to five times a month in which social media posts involving harassment or underage drinking are brought to his attention.
“If a kid brings it to us, we address every single one,” he said. “(The disciplinary action) could be detention time, it can be suspension, depending on what they say. For athletes, it could be missing games because that’s a code of conduct violation.”
Loer said if students are involved in sports and photos of them drinking surface on social media, they could be removed from the sport because it’s a Minnesota State High School League violation.
Kathryn Vigness, career coordinator at UND Career Services, said the key to keeping a positive social media presence is much more common sense than anything.
“Just don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want to come back and get you,” she said. She encourages her students to Google themselves, so they know what’s out there.
She also suggests using the privacy settings on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Facebook has settings to restrict public access to photos and posts.
Vigness also said it’s important to understand that once someone posts something, it’s out there for good. But, she said students can take advantage of BrandYourself.com to boost their positive links — such as a LinkedIn account — so they appear higher in Google search results.
“It’s a way for you, in the job search process, to put more positive stuff first, so your LinkedIn account comes first, your track record from senior year of college comes up,” Vigness said. “You’re kind of burying the rest of it.”
Wages added the key is just to be knowledgeable about what you posts, who can see those posts and how those posts could potentially be used against you.
Dos and don’ts of keeping a positive online reputation
- Do use common sense when posting.
- Do use restricted privacy settings.
- Do use BrandYourself.com to move positive sites up in Google search results.
- Do Google yourself to see what’s out there.
- Do be cautious of what you tweet.
- Do read the fine print about work policies and program contracts.
- Don’t post inappropriate photos or comments.
- Don’t post rude or disrespectful comments.
- Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want future employers to see.
- Don’t share too much information.