Status Update: ‘What’s on your mind?’

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I once heard the blues guitarist Big Bill Broonzy talking on the radio about songwriting. “You can write a song about anything…for instance, a pocket knife. It can be used to cut food, to carve a piece of wood…or to kill a man!” 

No, this is not a blog about songwriting, the blues or pocket-knives. It is about social media. Like the knife, social media is a tool. Like the knife, it is not inherently ‘good or evil’ – that depends upon the intentionality of the ‘user’.

I have been a user of social media ever since I got my first online account in 1998. IMs, Chat rooms, icq, message boards, MySpace, Facebook, Skype, LinkedIn, MSN Messenger, Bebo, and ‘blogging’.

I have seen the power of the use, abuse, misuse and creativity of social media. Today, however, my attention has been caught by two articles – one via  Twitter and the other via the WordPress blog site. Both articles concern the recent practice of employers asking prospective employees for their Facebook login details.  

Google 的貼牌冰箱(Google refrigerator)

(Photo credit: Aray Chen)

So what is your first reaction to that statement? Mine was: ‘They can’t do that…that’s an invasion of privacy! It’s like someone asking to visit your house. Your personal lifestyle choices may have no relevance to how well you can do a job.’ However, on reflection…

Some people choose not to use (or are still unaware) of any privacy settings on Facebook. They are currently quite happy to bare their souls (and many other things) to anyone who wishes to view their page – the roller-coaster of their emotional states, public bickering, gross attention-seeking, and many, many photos of whatever constitutes ‘having a good time’ with their specific social group. Part of me finds the ‘openness’ refreshing. Another part despairs and worries.

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On our training, we talk about the value of sharing and reflecting on experiences. However, the depth to which you share will depend upon the trust that has been established between individuals in a group. Why? Because we have learned from bitter experience that by being completely ‘open’, you also make yourself vulnerable to manipulation, prejudice and betrayal by the unscrupulous. We’ve all been there. Yes?

If I look at my personal Facebook page, I have nothing to hide. However, I do have a life and loved ones that I wish to protect. There is and always has been a parasitic strata of society who actually work very hard at ‘theft’ be it physical or virtual. They are creative, opportunistic and have no conscience. My  great fear is that there is a generation of social media users who may never recover from their blissful ignorance or naiveté. 

Back to employment…if you put it out there for all to see…that is your choice and you bear the consequences – positive or negative. You are Google-able… 

However, if you have chosen privacy settings…Hmmm

‘Application and interview’ is an imperfect process. Candidates may be ‘economical with the truth’, use manipulative language and personal charisma to improve their chances at selection. There are even books and online coaching advice about how to do this.

An employer who aspires to a certain set of values (such as sexual equality and multi-ethnicity) wants to know that, in the current world of instant mass communication, their reputation is not going to be besmirched (love that word!). They do not want to discover that the charismatic and knowledgeable flatterer, who said the right things at the interview, and is also highly qualified, turns out to be a misogynistic bigot with a penchant for ‘mooning’...and who had impeccable references (because the previous employer couldn’t wait to get rid of them…so they also also lied!). This happens!!!

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some questions to ponder…

Is it justifiable for an employer to invade personal privacy in order to protect its future reputation, in the same way I would want to protect my own?

…or, are we already creating a culture of social media savvy candidates who merely create multiple online personas – selecting which one they will reveal to their prospective employers?

Conversely, even if I have nothing to hide, why should I give access to my personal life to someone with whom I have not established a minimum level of trust – who may misuse information that is revealed.

We are aware that many (but thankfully not all!) educators are reluctant to comment on our own FB page, just in case their opinions, however valid and well-articulated, get them into ‘hot water’ with their setting/school/local authority. Unlike the TES forum threads, in which some extreme views are voiced but protected by anonymous usernames, we have ‘real’ people with ‘real’ names. We understand and accept your reluctance. 🙂

Despite the exponential advance in human technologies, the same human issues still remain. The instinct to survive / the instinct to protect oneself. When survival and protection are achieved ‘by any means necessary’, human values such as ‘trust’ are often a casualty, especially in times of economic hardship. If prospective employees will say/do anything to get a job, isn’t it reasonable to expect employers to say/do anything to protect themselves against employing the ‘wrong’ person? And, if employers use your personal information unscrupulously, isn’t it right that you should be able to protect yourself against disclosure?

Our learning for today… 

Why not take some time to reflect on your own social media pages. Check your own privacy settings or get someone to help you customise them – particularly if the format of the site has changed recently.  We make no judgements about content or lifestyle choices but think about what you are comfortable sharing and who can or might access your information now and in the future. Check who has ‘tagged’ you in any photographs and ‘untag’ them if you are not comfortable with them appearing on your pages. If you think that they could be potentially embarrassing ask for them to be removed – especially if they will come up in a Google search- a real friend will do this for you! Do a Google search on yourself and see what results you get – you may be surprised!

As for me, it’s time to fix the flux-capacitor and get back to the future. What will be the form and impact of social media in another 10 years…now that would be telling!

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Filed under Business, Education, Professional Development, Risk, Technology, Values

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