Facebook: Life comes back to haunt you
By GALE PIFER, Contributing Reporter
You have just finished watching "Animal House" on television and think having a toga party would be awesome. Your freshman friends think so, too. The next thing you know, you are dressed in a sheet, have had way too much to drink and somebody takes a picture. It shows up on the Internet. You look silly.|
Fast forward a few years. You've finished college, passed the Bar exam and are going for an interview as a law clerk for a federal judge. Great job. But you don't get it.
Why? Remember that silly picture of you at the toga party, the one with the bottle of booze and the blond? Prior to your interview, somebody checked your Facebook page and there it was.
"What we tell our students is that if you couldn't hang it on your dorm door or have it printed on a T-shirt, don't do it," said Dr. Josh Pauli, associate professor of information assurance at Dakota State University. "The way the Internet is today, whatever you post on your Facebook page is out there forever, for anyone to see -- even if you delete it."
Pauli said that more and more companies are adding a check of Facebook pages to their routine background checks for new and current employees, "especially the federal government that deals with security issues or sensitive political issues. What appeared quite harmless while you were in school can be mighty embarrassing later in life."
Pauli said that social media has become a part of everyday life, but sometimes the benefits can be quite damaging, especially if it is something considered inappropriate.
"Lots of employers are searching the Internet for information on prospective employees. Usually it takes in the last six or nine months of a person's Internet postings, not only on Facebook but also e-mail and other forms of communication."
In this day of tweets and texting, there is absolutely nothing secret anymore, he said.
"And more and more people are looking. Do something stupid and there is no taking it back," he said.
What may appear to be just a joke to a 20-year-old, he said, might appear to be poor online behavior by somebody else. It could mean not getting a job interview, and it could also affect scholarship programs.
"Every human resource person today has the option of reviewing social networking, as well as criminal records, financial information, prior work experience and education," he said.
Many businesses today depend on private firms to look into the backgrounds of future and present employees.
"The best way to protect yourself is just be careful not only what you put on the Internet, but also vigilant on what others might be posting about you," Pauli said.
Neither the city of Madison or Lake County include Facebook in their background checks of new employees. Usually it is left to the department supervisor to handle any background checks, said Jeff Heinemeyer, city finance officer.
Roberta Janke said the same is true in county government. County commissioners have the final say on who is hired.
"But I wouldn't say that in the future, Facebook searches might not be included," she said.
Aaron Walter at The Community Center said that extensive background checks are done on employees, especially those who deal with the after-school program and youth events.
"So far, we've not searched Facebook or the Internet," said Frances Walker, office manager at The Community Center.
The same holds true for the Madison school system.
"We have procedures to do extensive background checks on all employees, but thus far it does not include Facebook reviews," said Madison Superintendent Vince Schaefer.
Pauli said that it may be just a matter of time before social media becomes a part of background reviews, especially since so many organizations depend on firms that specialize in doing such work for industry and businesses.
Deb Byrne, who is in the Administrative Services Department at East River Electric Power Cooperative in Madison, said the co-op uses a service for background checks.
No matter what background material is used to screen possible employees, it is just a matter of time before social media sources are included, said Pauli.
"Today, the federal government more and more is digging deeper into backgrounds, especially if the job in any way is associated with national defense or terrorism," he said, "so my advice is to be careful what you put out there about yourself."
©Madison Daily Leader 2013
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