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Could facebook jeopardize your career?

Thu 1 Sep 2011
FYI, this story is more than a year old

This month’s blog came to me when a friend of mine got in trouble at work due to content she had posted on her Facebook page. This particular friend is extremely internet savvy and intelligent, had her Facebook profile set to completely private, does not accept friend requests from strangers and maintains a very professional image at all times. Her only mistake was participating in a few work related (perhaps not entirely professional...) conversations on Facebook with fellow colleagues whom she considered to be good friends, even outside of work.  Somehow this fact got back to her boss and she was strictly reprimanded at work the following day. This resulted in a rather lengthy debate on whether this situation was fair or not, and when (if ever) it is appropriate for your work to dictate your personal life (online or otherwise). Since this issue of NetGuide also includes a very interesting piece around Facebook privacy laws, I thought it would be the perfect time to crack into the above issue!

We’ve all heard the rumours that your boss checks up on your Facebook page, and that this could interfere with your career. We even touched on this issue in our "21 Tech Myths” feature a couple of months back, since it is something that is becoming a hot topic with the ever-rising popularity of social media.  In most cases, your boss isn’t going to waste their time snooping through your personal life and Facebook profile. When they hire you, most bosses assume that they have hired a mature, reliable individual whom they don’t need to babysit. In fact, it is impossible for anyone to go through your profile if you have your privacy settings at top gear. But before you let out a big sigh of relief, it’s not all good news.

First of all, Facebook is still a fairly new phenomenon, with many people only just discovering it. Oftentimes users don’t know how to properly protect themselves when they create their account, which results in accidentally leaving their profile open for the world to see. It doesn’t help that Facebook has undergone several structural changes, transforming the pages of unknowing users from uber private into open profile. For this reason, it is important to reset all of your privacy features every time there are changes or upgrades to Facebook. It’s not a bad idea to check up on your privacy settings from time to time anyways, just to ensure you are still adequately protected.

Unfortunately, many people do not realise the importance of having a private profile in the first place. Younger generations especially don’t understand that when you post something online you cannot take it back. Simply removing the photo or post is not enough, because by then, it could have been passed on through many other people and websites, over which you have no control. If you do actively choose to have an open Facebook profile, you have to accept the risks that come along with it. By leaving your profile open, anyone (including your boss) can easily view your content and this could cause some serious problems for you at work (and potentially other areas of your life as well). Even if your boss is not purposely spying on you, an open profile means information and photos can travel quickly and unintentionally end up in your boss’ lap.

Some people do choose to leave their profile open for professional purposes (particularly those in the entertainment industry, who rely on social media to boost their popularity), but in these cases you must be very careful to keep your page strictly professional, especially if it’s a page promoting a side gig and not your main career (and source of income!) Even still, we recommend setting up professional pages as "fan pages” rather than personal profiles, to avoid any confusion.

A similar issue arises when you accept Facebook friend requests from people you don’t personally know. If you do not know the person, you have no idea what kind of person they are, why they are adding you, what their intentions are and so on. By accepting strangers, you are asking for trouble. I have heard of several people encountering instances of identity fraud on Facebook and other social media sites (quite serious in some cases), and most of the time this was because they had either left their profile open to the public or because they had welcomed all sorts of strangers as "friends”. If you are going to knowingly allow people you don’t know to view your private life online, in my opinion, you got what was coming to you. I do feel bad for those who were unaware that their profile was not properly protected, and this is why I strongly encourage you to educate yourself about Facebook and make sure you buff up your privacy settings. (Ordering a back copy of our April 2011 issue featuring the reader’s unofficial guide to Facebook would be a great way to get all the info you need!)On another (but related) note – I would recommend against auto logins for Facebook, email or any other website. Sure this might save you the few seconds it takes to key in your password, but will it really be worth it when your Facebook, bank account or work email is hacked?

The internet is an amazing and wonderfully useful resource, but it is also a dangerous one. It is extremely important that you treat your online activities with the same precaution that you do your real life ones – and this goes for anti-virus and computer security as well. This way, you can have fun online without risking your job or other important areas of your life!

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