The internet is not an innocent playground. Things written on the internet can haunt the writer later in life, as President Obama observed in a speech on September 8, 2009
Many people with computers spend a lot of time and energy writing on the internet. Their efforts can range from long articles to short snippets of information or opinion here and there as they surf all over the place. And many people spend time on the new “social media”, such as Facebook and the like.
Exposing Secrets Online
Participants in these activities can easily be carried away in the moment and blurt out intimate details of their lives. They could brag about how much liquor they can guzzle. Or expose sex secrets. Maybe they reveal how they cheated on their bosses, spouses or the Internal Revenue Service.
What these innocent people are ignoring when they let their hair down is that the internet is forever. Unlike a note written on paper, such as a racy love letter, things written or published on the internet survive long after they are first produced. Usually a writer can burn a silly mash note, but emails survive attempts to delete them.
The word “publish” is technically appropriate to use when describing things written on the net. It conveys the permanence of the internet. Innocent people often assume all they are doing when they write on their social media pages is merely throwing a few thoughts out into space. Actually, they are publishing what they write. A published work lasts a long time. It can be seen by people for whom the message was never intended, such as perfect strangers.
Job seekers are no exception to this publishing rule. If a person applies for a responsible job, the prospective employer may look up the applicant’s name on a search engine like Google or Bing. If that curious prospective employer finds something with the applicant’s name or picture attached which suggests he or she has poor judgment or is sneaky or dishonest, hiring prospects diminish.
There people who check what possible employers do with information they find on the internet. There is solid evidence that employers will turn a job application down if they find any of the following behaviours:
- Applicants poses for, or participated in, provocative photos.
- Despite rapidly changing laws and social norms, some employers don’t appreciate it if the applicant participates in Gay Pride demonstrations and the like.
- Applicants reveal drinking or drug problems.
- They reveal bigotry or racism – that is, the kind of bigotry the employer doesn’t like.
- They criticize former employer(s) or coworkers in a nasty way.
There are ways to avoid the negative consequences of indiscretions written on the net.
The best and most direct way to circumvent this problem is never to reveal incriminating information in the first place.
That path is easier said than done for people want to get into the swing of things on social media sites. In that case the use of made-up identities can mask real identities. As effective as this expedient is in most cases, there are limits to the protection made-up identities offer. Even they can be “cracked” by internet experts. But it is a rare prospective employer who chooses to follow that expensive path.