There has been a lot of talk the last several years about using Social Media as an pre-employment screening tool. In HR and recruiting circles, practices and opinions have varied widely. But the FTC has finally settled the matter: in June of this year, the FTC approved Social Intelligence Corporation, in the business of background verification specifically of Social Media. Their finding is that SI's methods do not violate federal statutes aimed at guaranteeing an individual's privacy.
What does this mean to the average job seeker? More than your realize. If you read the article, toward the end it gives examples about people losing a job offer or being out of the running for a job (ie someone that joined a Facebook group "I shouldn't have to press 1 for English" was labeled a racist.)
The largest search engine is Google. Think about the latest craze to join Google+. Under the Terms and Condition's of Google+ user agreement, you give Google access to anything you post on the site *in perpetuity* and agree to allow them to share that information with anyone they partner with (usually we think of advertisers, but I see Social Intelligence as a huge customer). They also have some strict identity strictures, such as anyone registering must use their "real" name and information. Put that together, and you are just opening yourself up for scrutiny. This is why it is so vitally important to guard your online persona as carefully as possible.
Part of my job is to find candidates. There are a large number of websites that can pull up archived information if a person has enough background information to actually create a profile for you. My favorites include http://archive.org, http://spokeo.com, and Google itself.
Just because you delete something off of a site doesn't mean that it is deleted permanently off the internet. There are snapshots of content all over the place. Try running a Google search for anything. When the results come back, hit the blue hyperlink that says "Cached". It will bring up information that is stored on a server that is a snapshot of the original, which may no longer exist. Keep all this in mind when you are joining online groups, posting comments with your real name, and uploading photos of yourself that you might not want a potential employer to see. In the US, there are a lot of questions a recruiter cannot legally ask you such as marital status, ethnicity, religion, etc. But if you are on Facebook and you join the group "Pakistani Muslim Dating Connector" you've given that information away for a company like Social Intelligence to find.
Privacy online does not exist anymore. All we can do is try and safeguard our own profiles as much as possible by being smart and knowing the risks inherent in sharing too much.
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