Suppose you had a double who looked like you, spoke like you, had the same name, and sabotaged your job prospects. Time for a restraining order, right? Well, thanks to the Internet, we all have plenty of doubles running around—some more employment-friendly than others. Remember when you could jump out of a cake in a tutu or streak across the Brooklyn Bridge without debuting on YouTube the next day, and your most embarrassing moments weren’t even Google-able? But forty years after the first human walked on the moon, millions of us are leaving digital footprints all over cyberspace. In my next few columns, I’ll help you put your best digital foot forward.
First let’s focus on harm reduction.
Welcome to the world of social networking sites, where what you post and what others post about you may be available to anyone who cares—unless you take action. Assume that your present or future employers are Googling you, and that what you say on your profile or blog can potentially hurt your job.
Unless you want to use your profile as a professional networking tool choose a social networking site that has privacy settings and limit who can view your profile.
Facebook gives you lots of privacy options. If you’re on Facebook, click on “settings” in the upper right corner, then click on “privacy.” You can control who can see your personal info by making your profile page, status updates, photos tagged of you, videos tagged of you, wall posts, work info, and many other Facebook offerings visible to “only friends,” “friends of friends,” “networks and friends,” or in some cases only to you.
You also have a say in who can search for you, how you can be contacted, and what stories about you get published to your profile and to your friends’ News Feeds. You can even block particular people so they can’t find you or view your profile on Facebook. Choose settings that will prevent your boss and coworkers from viewing potentially compromising posts or photos. If you have hundreds of friends on Facebook, many of whom you barely know, you probably don’t want to post anything that you consider “private,” or wouldn’t want your boss to see.
This seems easy enough, but now that you’re fiddling with your privacy settings, perhaps you’re wondering what your boss can legally fire you for?
In general, employers hire people “at-will,” and either the employer or worker can break the relationship at any time, unless there’s a contract stating otherwise, or the employer belongs to a union. There are exceptions to this doctrine—especially in cases of unlawful discrimination.
• It’s against federal law for your employer to discriminate against you on the basis of race, national origin, sex, age, or disability. If you can prove that your boss fired or harassed you on these grounds, you have a strong legal case.
• I wish I could say the same about sexual orientation and gender identity, but there are no federal laws banning workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people—or against straight folks for that matter. Less than half the states forbid sexual orientation discrimination in the private sector, and only a handful have laws against gender identity discrimination. But even if you’re not protected under state law, you may be protected under the laws of your city or county. Go to Lambda Legal for more information. Facebook and many other social networking sites have groups for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. I belong to some of these, but I’ve lived in San Francisco and New York City, and I’ve fortunately never had a job where I had to worry if people knew I was queer. I don’t want to give advice that could put someone’s job in jeopardy, and I can’t promise that if you join a queer social networking group, your boss won’t fire you and get away with it.
• Companies can legally terminate you to protect their public image, so don’t badmouth your employer or divulge company secrets online.
• Don’t brag about parts of your life that can potentially mar your performance at work. You don’t want your boss to see a video of you crawling under the poker table after a drinking binge, especially if you were late to work the next day.
• Don’t discuss illegal activities. Perhaps you’re a strong supporter of medical marijuana. It’s not illegal to write about the medicinal properties of cannabis, or its effects on humans, rats, or monkeys. But don’t brag about growing reefer in your kitchen. Remember that job application question, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” Employers are wary of non-convicted law breakers too.
• Think before you post. Online profiles will be around for a very long time. The Internet Archive is committed to preserving the Internet and other digital technology for future generations and civilizations. So even after you update your profile, the old one may be lurking in some far-off corner of the archive. No one can foresee how technology will be used in the decades to come, and the Internet Archive is no different. Chances are you don’t want future archaeologists—or your grandkids—to discover compromising photos from your youth.
Next time we’ll find out how to a grip on your search engine results. You don’t have to be Master of the Universe to change what Google says about you.
Visit Lisa Montanarelli at www.lisamontanarelli.com.