Saturday 10 December 2016

Business Brain: Show social intelligence and don't get caught in a net of regrets

Published 04/08/2011 | 05:00

Being pictured
with President
Obama on
Facebook might
be a good
career move,
but other
entries on the
social network
site may colour
the attitude of
your boss or
future employer. Photo: Getty Images
Being pictured with President Obama on Facebook might be a good career move, but other entries on the social network site may colour the attitude of your boss or future employer. Photo: Getty Images

THE problems encountered by the Norris presidential campaign are yet another reminder of how your past can catch up with the present.

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Despite this, many people working in business do little to try to protect themselves when it comes to the latest hurdle to that ideal job -- the dreaded and highly sophisticated social media background check.

Those looking for work with American companies probably have the most to fear.

Companies in the US such as California's Social Intelligence can track down a job applicant's every faux pas, attempt at humour, prejudice or lewd personal photographs.

Many will still remember the Facebook pictures of a young Kildare Fine Gael candidate Emma Kiernan taken just before the 2009 council elections, featuring her in what one newspaper tactfully described as a "playful" pose.

While the voters of Newbridge were forgiving, would you want to take a similar risk in today's job market?

Employers can now easily scrape such images off internet networking sites such as Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and LinkedIn and then compile a dossier that can easily be used to stop you getting a job or even help an employer who needs to get rid of you.

These days, thanks to Social Intelligence, whatever challenges employers once faced by having to search site after site to find information about prospective employees has been solved by -- and outsourced to -- the company's algorithms, an inevitable consequence of the power of search engines in the internet age.

"We are not detectives," Max Drucker, the chief executive officer of Social Intelligence, told the New York Times in a much-discussed article recently.

"All we assemble is what is publicly available on the internet today," he said.

A sobering observation for sure.

If the message were not already crystalline, there is no longer any doubt that extreme vigilance with regard to social networking is no longer an option -- it is a necessity.

Who knows how many budding merchant bankers or company executives have already been nipped in the bud by Drucker's handiwork?

He told the 'New York Times' that he found one prospective employee searching for the drug OxyContin on Craigslist, and other background checks found damning evidence of racist and anti-Semitic remarks.

Once upon a time, before the internet, such sleuthing would have been nearly impossible, meaning that many people happily and productively employed in the highest ranks of corporate America no doubt have committed inchoate acts of foolishness that today would be punished early and often.

Can this be considered progress or evidence that Big Brother is very much a part of daily life?

To help people begin to grapple with the implications of this kind of digital monitoring, a review of a few of the more insightful online comments about the 'Times' story is instructive.

A "John Doe", in New York City, wrote that he thought schools should teach "basic internet hygiene", including to "assume that everything you post under your true name will forever be in the public domain, because, well, it will be", and to "never post a photo of yourself online unless it is bland and you can absolutely control access to it".

"Doe" has little use for social networking. "In general, the less of yourself that appears online, the better off you will be," he wrote. "Facebook? No thanks."

He also wrote that he expected legislators to do little to protect us from the more heinous aspects -- mistaken identity, for instance -- of Social Intelligence's dossiers.

"If they get it wrong," he wrote of Social Intelligence, it could destroy "a person's life with no possibility of appeal".

Other commentators simply see this new service as the beginning of a very slippery slope.

"This is us, giving up a little essential liberty -- one photo, one text, one post, one status update, one tweet at a time," a K Johnson wrote.

"I've never said or done anything online that anyone could possibly take offence to," wrote DCS.

"I just hope I don't have to interview with the one person who takes offence at people who have never said or done anything offensive online."

John, in Northern California, worries that the new dossiers will be used, and candidates rejected, but no fingerprints will be left.

"They won't tell you that's why they aren't hiring you," he wrote.

"You'll just be skipped over, the same way people or groups routinely are now if they don't fit a certain ethnic, racial or physical (fat, thin) profile. They won't admit this, however, and you can't prove it."

Then there is the slightly perverse but well-taken logic that "Gramercy" displayed in a comment. "I actually applaud this," it read.

"I am actually glad to see that indiscretions and bad judgment exhibited online can and will be held against those pinheads who use the internet as their private diary.

"And while I am at it, we should set standards. Anyone who has seen a full episode of Jersey Shore or the Housewives of whatever, or can identify the names of the Kardashians should not be allowed to hold a real job, or to drive for that matter."

Given the existence of companies like Social Intelligence, it just makes common sense not to put anything in a post that you wouldn't be proud to see on the front page of a newspaper. (Additional reporting Bloomberg)

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