I love social media. I really do. I find it to be the cutting edge of communication and interaction that makes the online cyberspace experience all the more real time interaction, especially with friends and family and co-workers. Why just barely two weeks ago I was in the middle of a two week contract assisting a local insurance brokerage in evaluating their website and developing strategies for using Facebook and Twitter for marketing their company and expanding their client base. I loved doing that job and like I said, I really love the potential of social media, not only for connecting with friends and family, but for business as well.
However with each development there comes the risk of more and more of your personal information, including your opinions, being stored online, especially by companies like Google and their extensive directories. Just do a name search on yourself and you will find a ton of information which you have typed away on your keyboard, thinking nothing of it, until one day it hits you, this is available to everyone who searches under your name! Everyone can literally find out a lot of information on you, and do a profile on you based on whatever you say online. That my friend is scary stuff. This is not about Big Brother, but about every little brother and sister on the planet! In fact this should scare the living crap out of you!
Don’t get me going about conspiracy stuff, because this is not about conspiracy but about facts. Here are the facts.
1) All major search engines create directories on all websites that people go to and enter information. Even if you fill in a survey with an email address, that address can be traced to the user. So much for being anonymous on the net!
2) Even if you delete your profiles on the social networks, the directories still have your info. Depending on the search engine it can remain there for months if not longer. If the information was cached and saved, and you deleted the info, someone out there still has the info!
3) The FCC still has issues with Facebook, even though the Canadian commissioner on privacy of information forced Facebook to change some things last year. So, if the FCC still has security issues with Facebook, so should the Canadian government!
4) In our own community of Kitchener-Waterloo, the Waterloo Regional School Board is going to allow the use of Facebook in schools for students. Let’s not even debate the merits of letting students use Facebook during school hours where they should be actually learning something (as an aside, thank God that my wife homeschooled our daughters!), but the actual fact that young teens are going to put personal information on Facebook, beyond the control of parents, and that this information, is rated to be a risk by the FCC, this should be a concern to everyone!
5) There are numerous articles coming to light both in print and online, about the risks that the unemployed, or recent university and college graduates are taking by using social media and photo and video websites. Potential employers will search under your name, to see if they can glean any information on you, and see what they are potentially risking by hiring you. That alone should cause many to be concerned.
This number 5 on my list is what has led to my closing down all of my social networks profiles. I even deleted videos from YouTube. Yes, I am serious, and no I am not paranoid. What I find intriguing however, is that the very day when I finished deleting all my profiles, I actually got a call for an interview for employment. Before that day, I had drawn blanks for many jobs, or had one or two interviews, but no closing deal on a job. I cannot help but wonder how many people out there have had the same thing happen to them.
I tend to be opinionated, and give my two cents on pretty well any social issue, church issue, political issue, or any other kind of thing worth giving an opinion. But to have those opinions shared online, to viewed, read, commented on by anyone, and then a potential employer finding these online, and seeing that this employer may only want a “vanilla employee”, low risk, low maintenance, then that cuts me out of a potential job. So why should I risk that.
As it is whether the people want to acknowledge it or not, when you are over 40 years old, age discrimination is very real for the person looking for work. As you age, you find it more and more difficult to find work. Being a white male, Anglo-Saxon (quite literally), and 52 means that I am one of those guys that is discriminated against right off the bat, all in the name of multiculturalism (in Canada) and diversity (which includes race, colour, ethnicity, handicapped, and sexual orientation). Add to that the fact that I am a Christian, and discrimination is very real, and it is not a conspiracy or a phobia. It is reality.
Where it not for my belief in a sovereign God, who controls every molecule in the universe, I think I would go nuts. However, this does not mean that life is easy and that I should just be content that God is in charge. He has made it so, that I can participate with Him, and that part of that participation with Him includes me doing my part, such as applying for jobs, and going for interviews. He has chosen to use this means of advancing His purposes not just in my life, but in the lives of everyone on the planet. This is a participatory relationship. As such engaging on Facebook and Twitter can have it’s usefulness, and it is a great means to connect with friends and family, but there are risk and control issues. I could go on about how time absorbing it all is, and I found it to be so, to keep up and to connect and comment, it all takes time, but I will presume that everyone knows that already. So what can we do, if we want to remain on Facebook and Twitter.
- Determine what social media you want to participate in, and find out how you control your personal information, and one key is finding out if you close your account, does all your information get erased?
- Determine what you want to do with this social network. Do you want to connect with friends and family? If you connect only with friends and family, make sure your updates are innocent and don’t give away too much personal information about yourself, your family, your job, or anything you would not want all the public to know. For those kinds of messages, just use email or a real live letter in the post. Even your email can be hacked into!
- If you are wanting to upload photos, remember that once they are online, everyone will be able to see or access them, unless you really make it secure, and if you make it secure, your friends may not be able to access them, and then the question is, “What is the point of doing that?” If you post pictures, they should be tasteful, and not something that would embarrass your parents or your 90 year old grandmother! Remember a picture is worth a thousand words, and what will that potential employer think of you then?
- If you post video, the same advice as above. Remember now with smart phones, cell phones, digital cameras, especial the Flip or Kodak compact video cams, you can edit as soon as you shoot the video and upload right away to YouTube. That could really do damage, if a potential employer found embarrassing video about you on YouTube.
- If you use Twitter, and you are sending micro blog updates of 140 characters, and include URLs to webpages, are those pages incriminating to you, or revealing things about you, that could cause a potential employer to not engage in your services?
The bottom line is, the cyber life is risky. Your personal information and access to it is risky. Changing passwords on a regular basis on all your accounts, from email, to social networks, to other sites, like banking and government sites, is important, and there are enough software packages that assist you in doing that, so that should not deter you or discourage you from being more secure at least, if you want to continue on the social media super-highway. As for me, I will not any longer engage in personal interaction on any social network. I will only consider it from a professional point of reference, and will only consider that, once I am employed again.
Beware of Facebook and Twitter and all the other social media. They are not as safe as what people believe, and prying eyes are looking for any edge they can get on you. Everyone from marketing companies, to the giants like Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Yahoo, are looking for a competitive edge, and that edge is in gathering your personal information. You should care about who has it! It could cost you a job opportunity!