We are all made of data…

To paraphrase a song by Moby: “We are all made of data.”  All of those bits and bytes of information trail that we leave behind on Google and Facebook can paint a picture for potential employers to follow.

I have worked in the alcohol and other drugs treatment sector since 1998.  In more recent years I have become interested in how social networks can be used by the alcohol and other drugs treatment sector to support learning and advocacy.  My forays into the world of internet and drugs has lead me to a very important conclusion: that people buy and sell drugs online, they talk about alcohol and other drugs online and they take pictures and movies of themselves while intoxicated and post them online.

Drugs and employment has been a contentious issue since the introduction of workplace drug testing.  While ideally any such programs are designed to ensure that an individual’s use of alcohol and/or other drugs does not interfere with workplace safety, testing programs do not measure impairment,  they instead measure whether somebody has been exposed to a drug or not over a period of time.  This last statement may be the most important part of the picture.  While most employers primary concern is about workplace safety, there are many who are unwilling to employ somebody who uses drugs regardless of whether this impacts upon work performance or not.

Drug testing is an expensive process and is done at the cost of employers.  It should not be surprising then to find that some employers are seeking to screen potential employees through cheaper methods.  One such way that they can do this is by spending a little time investigating a potential employee’s social media footprint.

Have you ever done a Google search on yourself?  What about a Google image search?  If a prospective employer was to do the same what would they find?

Some Tips

So what can you do?  I’ve listed below 5 tips for protecting the privacy of your online identity

  1. The golden rule – Don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t be prepared to say or do in public.
  2. Be mindful of friend requests from unknown people.  There are two reasons for this.  The first is that the person requesting may be a prospective employer undertaking some research.  Secondly some people use social media to promote products that you may not wish to be associated with.  (Think of a Facebook timeline filled with spam selling Viagra).
  3. Be aware that it may not be content that you have posted that could potentially foul up a job application.  (E.g. Do any of your friends love to take photos at a party and then post them to Facebook?)  If some does post something that may be damaging, then ask them to take it down.  Preferably approach the person offline or via email, after all you don’t want to create a larger footprint regarding the offending media.
  4. Unless it is specific to the job, providing details of your Facebook and/or other social network accounts as part of your CV is not recommended.
  5. When using social networks like Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ make sure that you understand how the privacy settings work.

Finding out about privacy settings

If you want to find out more about how you can change the privacy settings on Facebook, Twitter or Google+, I have provided some links below.

Facebook Privacy

Privacy on Twitter

Google+ Privacy

Matt Gleeson has worked in the alcohol and other drugs sector since 1998 in a variety of roles. An advocate of life-long learning, consumer participation and harm reduction, Matt currently writes the blog Stonetree Harm Reduction, a website about the intersection of harm reduction and social media.