legal news & tips for employees published by Law Office of Eugene Lee
Do you have a personal account with Facebook, MySpace, Twitter or any of the other social media websites that have become so popular lately? Chances are you do. Or you will soon. The growth of social media sites has been nothing short of breathtaking. Here are a few statistics:
- According to a 2009 Anderson Analytics report, the US has a total population of 305 million. Of that, 187 million are online. Of that, roughly 60%, 110 million, are using social network sites of one form or another. (“New Anderson Analytics Social Media Study – US Social Network Services”).
- Another 2009 Anderson Analytics report estimates that social networking sites have the following numbers of users: Facebook: 78 million; MySpace: 67 million users; Twitter: 17 million; LinkedIn: 11 million. (“New Social Media Study: Facebook Trumps Other Social Media as Most Valuable; Majority of Users Can’t Do Without Popular Site”).
- The total minutes spent on Facebook increased from 1.7 billion in April 2008 to 13.9 billion in April 2009. (Nielsen Wire: “Time Spent on Facebook up 700%, but MySpace Still Tops for Video”).
Getting to know people through a social networking site can be fun and rewarding. But as with the rest of the Internet, it comes with risks for the unwary.
According to a 2009 Harris Interactive survey of 2,667 HR professionals, 45% of them said that they go to social networking sites to research job candidates. Another 11% plan to do so soon. (“45% of Employers Now Screen Social Media Profiles”). The study also found 35% of employers decided not to hire a candidate due to content found on their social networking page. Here were some of the big no-nos that HR professionals reported:
- Posting indiscreet photos and info: 53% of employers won’t hire you
- Posting activity involving alcohol and/or drugs: 44% of employers won’t hire you
- Badmouthing former employers: 35% of employers won’t hire you
The trend isn’t limited to just employers. Some lawyers have begun researching social networking sites to gain more information about i) the lawyers on the other side, ii) the parties on the other side, iii) the jurors sitting in on their trials, and even iv) the judges overseeing their lawsuits. While there isn’t any hard data regarding this phenomenon, I have come across a large amount of anecdotal evidence. I have heard tell of other employment lawyers suddenly being confronted by their opponents with damaging, lawsuit-losing information contained in the Facebook pages of their own clients at the most inopportune times.
Some tips to keep in mind for those of you who are Facebooking or MySpacing:
- Don’t be an oversharer. People have a tendency to reveal far more private details on social networking sites than they ever would in person. Don’t be the “Too Much Information” guy or gal. Err on the side of disclosing less.
- Don’t hit that submit button too quickly. Always take a second or two to think before you release a picture or a note into the wild. Once it’s out there, chances are you won’t be able to reel it back in.
- Don’t accept every invitation to connect with someone that comes your way. Think twice before you “friend” an employer, a co-worker, a subordinate, a stranger whose identity you haven’t verified, etc.
- Do imagine how the information on your page would look to i) a current or potential employer, ii) your co-workers and business acquaintances, iii) the judge and jury if you’re considering a lawsuit, iv) your great-great-grandkids (“Hey kids, look, here’s your great great grandmother lying naked, wrapped around a toilet with a bottle of vodka on her face and obscenities written in permanent marker all over her body”).
- Do review the privacy settings for your account. Sites like Facebook permit you to decide which pictures and information you will show to which circles of friends and acquaintances.
- Do a Google search of your name periodically to see what comes up. If something damaging or embarrassing comes up, perhaps it can be repaired.
So do yourself a big favor. If you’re going to share on Facebook or MySpace, do it the smart way. Or you might end up like the woman in the picture above.