Social networking sites, sure you know: Facebook, Twitter, mySpace, etc. They are certainly wildly popular, you can even find Big Dave and Company on some of these sites. In fact, you could sort of call Blogger a social networking device. Anyway, these sites are so wildly popular because they are great. They allow people to have their own little corner of the Internet where they can tell you all about themselves, and where they can be found easily by their friends and peers. The double edged sword with this feature, this idea, however, is that unless your site offers a feature that sets your little bit of the Internet and you choose to use that feature, everybody else can see your little part of the Internet world. This is a double edged sword because it's great for you, right? Long lost friends from high school can find you, someone with the same name as you can find you and you can get married like happened earlier this year in Florida, whatever. That is a neat feature, and that is what draws many, many people into these sites and services. There is however, the possibility that one might fall on the other blade of their own sword.
The second blade is that, while all these people you WANT to find you can find you, all those other people who you don't necessarily want to find you can find you just as easily too. Yikes. This includes the people who you are bitching about or slamming on your wall or whatever. This includes all the people you are Tweeting about. This includes people like the government and employers. Yeah, I bet you didn't think about that option. And it can lead to lots of havoc. First of all, when you are talking about how bad your ex-boyfriend was in bed, and how small his penis is, there is a pretty good chance that he is going to read that, and he is going to be pissed, which is fine if that's what you are going for, but if it's not you could be in trouble. And if you are talking about how you partied until 6 am on Thursday night and then called in for work on Friday and your employer sees it, you could be in trouble.
There is actually a long history of this, and there have been repeated warnings in the media - in magazines and the like - that corporate recruiters and human resource departments routinely check sites like mySpace and Facebook to see what kind of stuff their candidates for employment are putting up there. Accessing these sites, which they invariably will unless you are extremely careful, allows these companies to make psychological and character assessments of its applicants. So if they see that you are a little bit off-kilter, or that maybe your act certainly isn't together, or that you are 45 and you spend your spare time trolling college bars, they might think twice before calling you for that second interview.
Twitter is the latest social networking site that has claimed a victim from their job. A waiter (read out-of-work or aspiring actor) at a posh, trendy, star-laden restaurant in Beverly Hills was fired because he posted Tweets on Twitter regarding the behavior of one of the celebrity patrons. Strangely enough, he was not reprimanded or let go because he let this particular patron leave without paying (which he did) but because he posted tweets about how she did not tip on Twitter, which the restaurant management subsequently read. End of game man, you are done for.
And he was done for because he is an idiot. Here is the deal, Company. Whenever you post something on Twitter, whenever you write something on yours or someone else's wall or whatever you Facebook people do it is going to be read. It is going to be discovered. So here is a good rule of thumb to use when using a social networking site: Always assume that EVERYBODY can read what you are writing.
Now, one way to sort of mitigate these effects is to make your sites or feeds or whatever private, so they can only be viewed by invitation or acceptance. That's easy enough. And I understand that means that some people won't be able to find you through the years and the miles, but by in large these people can ask for permission to view your business and then it's on like Donkey Kong. This will keep the great majority of nasties and government or corporate types out and to themselves. But still, it is not foolproof. Act like anyone is going to be able to see what you post.
So that's it. That's a good rule of thumb to protect yourself when networking socially. It's easy. It's so easy. Just use your brain, think about what you are doing, and take like ten seconds to think about the potential ramifications and consequences before you make those first keystrokes. Oh, and one more thing. Remember that even once you have deleted something from your social networking site, remnants of that thing survive for months or even years out in the clutter of the Internet. So don't put up shit that you don't want hanging over you for a long time to come, okay? Great. So be smart and be safe. And you'd better go check your Facebook, I think one of the Unpaid Interns just posted something to your wall.