I'm sure that quite a few people are now only too aware that what they write on social media or the company they keep on Facebook could cost them their job. But there are a lot of people who aren't. Now, I find that it's not just your current job that could be imperiled by your tweets or posts but also a future one, writes Billy MacInnes.
According to this story on the Silicon Republic website in Ireland, a recent survey has found that for close to one in five technology industry executives a job candidate's social media profile could deter them from hiring him or her.
The research, conducted by Eurocom Worldwide in association with Dublin-based Simpson Financial & Technology PR, received over 300 responses, with more than 80% coming from technology companies in Europe.
In the same survey last year, nearly 4 out of 10 technology companies said they had checked a prospective employee's social media profile but the idea of taking action based on them seems to be a phenomenon unique to 2012.
Now, leaving aside obvious areas of concern for prospective employers such as criminality, incitement to violence, racism or homophobia, I'm a little bit concerned about just where this could all end up. What criteria does a company employ when it rejects a candidate based on his or her social media profile?
If the boss is a Conservative supporter, for example, might he or she be disinclined to employ a member of the Labour party (or vice versa)? If someone professes sympathy for causes on Facebook or Twitter that the boss doesn't, is that the end of his or her chances of a job? What if the MD is a keen Countryside Alliance supporter and advocate for fox hunting and the job candidate isn't?
Just where does the personal, in terms of someone's political, religious and cultural beliefs, become a professional issue that can be used by prospective employers not to offer someone a job? And is it right that Facebook profiles or tweets on twitter can be used as weapons against an individual? The fact remains that we are all entitled, as individuals, to our own thoughts and opinions. So long as they do not interfere with the daily fulfillment of our duties as an employee, I fail to see what relevance they have to any employer.
If employer "discrimination" against prospective job candidates based on their social media profiles becomes a widespread phenomenon, the consequence will be that Facebook and Twitter will become more bland and boring as people censor themselves for fear of damaging their future employment prospects.
I wonder if there isn't an argument to be made that employers are better off knowing someone's real thoughts and opinions from his or her social media profile rather than being hoodwinked by a profile that has been deliberately censored to ensure it is no hindrance to a person's job prospects.
In any case, there's a reason why we call Facebook and Twitter "social media". They're not called professional media or employment media. Of course there is crossover, especially as businesses use social media to reach customers and build their profiles. But it seems unfair that as businesses use social media more and more, the value judgements attached to individual users and their profiles should be increasingly coloured by the commercial considerations companies bring with them.
I guess what I'm saying is that prospective employers really have no right to vet people according to their social media profiles. If businesses want to use social media for certain purposes that will prove valuable to them, they need to realise the quid pro quo is it has a very different value for individuals and they use it in a very different way. If they don't get it, it's down to individuals to let them know it very clearly. These few words should suffice: "Back off, we were here first!"
This was first published in March 2012