Social Media Searches on Job Applicants –The Clampdown


‘All the world’s a social media platform…’

The internet has been called an unregulated Wild West, a digital playground, a threat to society, and more. Realistically, it’s taken 25 years to grow into something that we simply can’t live without. We live our lives on there, and it’s an extension of ourselves.

Millennials get a bad rep (by Gen X’ers & Baby Boomers who hypocritically also enjoy the spoils of the internet) as being a vain and self-centred army of selfie-stick wielding narcissists whose lives are played out on digital with less regard for ‘the real world’ (whatever that is). Yet, they inherited a broken world. They think ethically & strategically about how to spend their money and time.

Social media is the backdrop to it all, but can be all-consuming. Presenting the right version of you on your chosen platforms is a careful consideration whether your’e 13 or 63. We can literally filter ourselves until we’re digitally ‘happy’. If Shakespeare was a millennial, he might say “All the world’s a social media platform, and all the men and women merely avatars”.

 They did what on the weekend?

Well, the more we live online, the more visible we are to others, and that also includes recruiters and employers. We all still need to work (AI isn’t ubiquitous quite yet) and yes, that landscape is changing too (read my companion article)

However, an FT article this week has seen an extra dimension added to the practice of potential employers using social media to peer into your lives.

Checking on employees and catching them doing silly things in their own time because of their lack of privacy control is not ideal, or benefit cheats spectacularly failing at lying when contradictory proof is splashed all over their FB page has been well documented. Tut tut we say. How silly of them.

That’s a lot of personal data to protect

We know we must be careful in what we present so as not to jeopardise our current or future jobs, but what about flipping it back to recruiters and employers? How ‘fair’ is it for them to use social media to search on us and make pre-determined decisions, just because of a stray poor taste comment, or snap of a rowdy night out?

Well, the EU has determined that may be a breach of European law. We know that data is shaping our lives, and with GDPR seeing the biggest data shake-up in 20 years, it’s more important than ever.

The Article 29 working party don’t make EU law, but are heavy influencers, so when it’s suggested that data collected by employers from a search must be relevant to the ‘performance of the job’ it means that it’s not just us that should be careful.

So, data protection is there to protect all. We should obviously still be careful on how we digitally present ourselves but it also looks like we’re getting some much-needed, strengthened protection.

Which version of you is on show?

My Twitter profile shows a good mx of my personality and work, which went some way to helping secure my role, but I am mindful about what else I show. On FB I have to be wary that I’m ‘friends’ with my in-laws. On LinkedIn, I’m as transparent and honest as possible.

This could very easily turn into a Top 10 ways to safeguard yourself online, but it really takes just a bit of common sense. If your digital life is a window to your personality, work history, achievements and more, then just think about who will see it. It’s not just about exes and mates, or family on the other side of the world.

Employers will have to ask to conduct a social media profile audit. Ask them what their data policies are, and if you want to look really good, mention GDPR, data protection changes or the Article 29 party. Maybe don’t go bragging about it on social afterwards though. No one likes a show-off.

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