Hash Tag Fail: Why Social Media Can Hurt You

With the click of a button, you can go to Facebook and look through photos of my weekend; on FourSquares you can track my current (and every) location; and on Hotlist, you can find out where I plan to spend my evening. In 140 characters or less, you can find out how I feel about various subjects on Twitter, and look up all of my corporate connections on LinkedIn. You can then peruse my personal blog, check out what I've got for sale on Craigslist, read the corporate reviews I've left on MouthShut.com, and of course, check out my cat's MySpace page.

I don't actually subscribe to all of these social media sites - but I could, and many people do. And it always surprises me how much personal information people are willing to put online. Besides the obvious implications (stalking comes to mind) of telling your every thought and movement to the whole world, potential and current employers may also be tracking your every move.

The New York Times recently published an article on a start-up company called Social Intelligence, which is selling businesses social media background checks on all potential employees. This means that every Tweet, Facebook status update, or photo you've ever posted online can be seen, and studied, by potential employers. The article cites examples of candidates who were disqualified for positions after it was found that they had made racist comments online, posted nude photographs on photo sharing sites, or, in one extreme example, had tried to buy OxyContin on Craigslist.

The threats that social media pose to employment, aren't just inflicted on those currently looking for a job. Current employers may also be keeping an eye on their employees' online behaviour. I've heard examples of employers being terminated after posting derogatory comments about their boss on Facebook, or employees who are fired after calling in sick but then posting photos of themselves at that afternoon's double-hitter.

Of course, these are all North American examples, but the same social media screening also takes place across the Middle East. However due to the conservative lifestyle and laws throughout the Arabian Peninsula, one must be even more careful about the content they post online. OxyContin is just as illegal in Saudi Arabia as it is in the United States, but it's also equally illegal to buy alcohol in Saudi Arabia. And that photo of you holding a glass of wine out in the desert on your day off — could cost you your job.

Social media can be a great tool for both personal and business use (Even Helen Ziegler and Associates is now on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn) and the more you use it, the more connected you become. But remember that the more you use it, the more exposed you become.

We're moving through uncharted territories and employers are trying hard to evolve with the rest of us, and this means using social media to their advantage. So the next time you are editing your CV and deciding what to wear to the interview (try whattowear.com) remember that there's another factor that will come to play in your assessment for a job: your online presence.

So it's time to edit your MySpace page and re-think tweeting about last night's kegger. Luckily, for those of you who don't know where to start and you're lost in a sea of photo comments and hash tags, there is a company on your side: You can hire 2KS, a UK-based IT company, to clean up your e-presence

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