Posted On 12th September 2013

Does anyone really have a private life anymore? Of course they do but if you are a fervent user of social media, unless you have paid heed to the broad range of advice that sits on the internet about what you should and should not post to your social media sites, it is very likely that more about you is public than you would ever think.

We have had a few salubrious and timely tales. There are the cause célèbre such as Paris Brown, the erstwhile Youth Crime Commissioner for Kent, whose social networking posts from her younger days caught up with her and cost her position. More recently we have seen the successful claim by Lord McAlpine against Sally Bercow (the wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons and keen tweeter) reminding us that publishing on social media is like any other form of publishing when it comes to the law judging what we say. And let’s not even mention the controversy about the US and UK security services and how they have been accessing the online activities of one another’s citizens and sharing the results.

Nevertheless, people seek to divide their social media world as they would divide the real world, namely into public and private spheres. I’ve had a number of people say to me that they have different profiles both on LinkedIn and Facebook: one for friends and one for the wider world, with settings to match those different purposes.

The thing is, it doesn’t quite work like that. First of all, both sites state in their terms and conditions that you should only have one profile. Sure, you can get round that but if they manage to catch up with you, they will delete one of the profiles and it will be them, not you, who decides which one. Secondly, while you may put the tightest privacy settings on your private account, it only takes one friend who does not have the same wish to keep their private life just so reposting your content for it to find a far wider audience than you had ever anticipated. Let’s face it, even a Zuckerberg family photo has inadvertently been made much more public in the past few months than was ever anticipated in the past few months (http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/us-news-blog/2012/dec/27/facebook-founder-sister-zuckerberg-photo).

Why is this important? Well, for job seekers a clean online image is important and the way around this is not simply to ring fence the stuff you wouldn’t want a prospective employer to see into a separate account. While you may be able to control the LinkedIn URL that you send through to them, you cannot control the searches they may make on you. If your name is rare enough, even a simple Google search will be enough to rake up all kinds of information about you; and even if your name is rather more commonplace, it won’t take much additional data to pin point information about you. Believe you me, it doesn’t take GCHQ to find enough evidence to put a job offer into question.

So if you’re a job seeker, do yourself a favour. Google your name and also make searches for it on any social media you regularly use. If you see anything about you that you do not like, do your best to do something about it.

As for me, while thinking about this blog I Googled my own name. Heidi Nicholson isn’t that common but I found at least two others interested in singing and choirs. Who says there is nothing in a name…

Heidi Nicholson

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