Going to that party seemed like a great idea, until a photo of you passed out of the floor was shared all over Facebook. Seemed harmless enough at the time, until a potential employer went digging through the internet to see what kind of employee you would make. Needless to say, you didn't get the job. Why? Because the company found that drunk photo of you objectionable.
Ever feel like you are being watched? You are, especially if you maintain a strong online presence. Besides the government and your ex-fiance, companies are also using the internet to gather information about you. According to a recent survey, 37% of companies say that they are using social media to evaluate prospective employees beyond their standard job application materials. 
What exactly is social media, anyway?
Social media is the creation and sharing of user-generated content on web-based applications in virtual communities. These virtual community platforms immediately reach a worldwide audience through the use of the internet or mobile phones. Examples of popular social media websites and applications are Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram and Pinterest. Other examples are blogs, gaming sites such as Words With Friends, content communities such as YouTube, and collaborative sites such as Wikipedia.
Who uses social media?
Basically everybody who uses the internet uses social media in one way or another, but not everybody engages in posting information about themselves online. People who post personal information on social media sites are generally interested in self-presentation and the desire to control what information people see about them and how they are perceived. This self-disclosure is often done both consciously and unconsciously and is consistent with the image and impressions that people would like to give.  Sometimes people want to promote their business or ideas so they use social media as propaganda. Other times they just want someone to talk to, much like talking to stranger on a bus. Quite often, people want to connect with their friends and family over distances, and so they share considerable amounts of personal information with them.
In this age of self-disclosure online, people sometimes put up information about themselves that would have remained private before the worldwide spread of information was available. There is a false sense of security with social media sites. Just because you think you are sharing with a select few does not mean you actually are. Anyone can take your words or images and re-post them for a broader audience. Maybe you got drunk at a party and a video of you dancing showed up on YouTube. Sure your friends thought it was hilarious, but will your potential future boss? Maybe you tried to impress a boy and put up a half-dressed photo that you took of yourself (“selfie”) on your Facebook page and he shared it with everybody. Or maybe one day you got frustrated and went on an offensive rant on Twitter, upsetting several people. What we forget is that when we put up information online, it is very hard to control the spread of information, therefore we are also putting it up for potential employers.
How many companies are using social media sites to research potential employees?
It is becoming quite commonplace for potential employers to use social media to screen candidates therefore it is important to stay up to date with the information that is out there about you. (As painful as it may be, from time to time it is wise to Google yourself.) According to the earlier survey, 34% of employers said that they have denied a job to someone because they had found disturbing information of the potential employee online. Of those potential employers, 49% denied employment to someone because they had posted a lewd photo of themselves online, 45% denied employment because there was evidence of drinking or doing drugs, 35% denied employment because they were poor communicators, 33% denied employment because they had badmouthed a previous employer, 28% denied employment because they made discriminatory comments and 22% denied someone employment because they had lied about their qualifications.  Another survey had similar results. It revealed that “almost 40% of respondents' companies check out potential employees’ profiles on social media sites” and that “almost one in five technology industry executives say that a candidate’s social media profile has caused them not to hire that person”. 
Oh no! I found a terrible photo of me on the internet! What do I do?
Hold on. Don't panic. Most people have something on the internet that they may not want out there. That is simply the age in which we live. However, once something is out there, it is out there. There is little chance of getting unflattering photos, videos or text that you posted yourself off the internet, so be very careful about what you share in the first place. Social media users have plenty of privacy settings at their disposal so it is very important to use them and review them occasionally as they are often updated. It is possible to go back and clean up your social media accounts and well worth the effort. Twitter, for example, now allows you access to your archives, which makes it very easy to remove content and as awful as Facebook Timeline is for most people, it does make it easier to access older posts.
If a third party uploads and shares your content onto the world wide web without your permission, a request to the person or server hosting the objectionable material to remove it may be necessary. Hopefully they will take it down but sometimes the request needs to be backed with legal action. 
The moral of the story is this: don't put anything on the internet that you don't want a future employer to see.
 [“Employers are scoping out job candidates on social media – but what are they finding?” Infographic http://www.careerbuilder.com/JobPoster/Resources/page.aspx?pagever=2012SocialMedia&template=none&sc_cmp2=JP_Infographic_2012SocialMedia ]
 [“Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media”p. 62. Andreas M. Kaplan, Michael Haenlein. 2010 http://openmediart.com/log/pics/sdarticle.pdf ]
 [One in Five Technology Firms Has Rejected a Job Applicant Because of Social Media Profile – Eurocom Worldwide Annual Survey http://www.eurocompr.com/prfitem.asp?id=14921 ]
 [“Your Unofficial Job-Application Checklist” David D. Perlmutter. 2012. http://chronicle.com/article/Your-Unofficial/135798/ ]
Arthur Hunter is a computer programmer and co-founder of Theravive. He has been in the tech industry for over 20 years, with multiple Microsoft certifications. He has a love and passion for the intersection of technology and mental health and how the gadgets we use and the time we spend on them play a part in our mental well being, for better or worse. Together with his wife in 2007 they founded Theravive, which currently has thousands of licensed therapists and psychologists. He enjoys writing on occasion, reporting on mental health and technology. You can reach Arthur at 360-350-8627 or write him at webadmin - at - theravive.com.