On privacy online – a serious threat or a way to success?

Let’s face it: people live on the network. We wake up, read our e-mail, check our messages on Facebook, interactions on Twitter, Snapchats, Whatsapps, Instagram and what else not. We use credit and debit cards, oysters, mobile devices, digital records and so on. We create communities and platforms online. We live online. Internet creates a great space for creativity, but is it a way to personal success and fame or is it a serious threat?

As I mentioned in my previous post, being active on social networks online is playing a great part of the great success in the jobseekers world nowadays. However, where is that boundary of privacy we are willing to step over?

With every trade we make, comment we leave, person we flag, badge we earn, we leave a reputation trail. (Rachel Botsman, TEDGlobal)

All the bits and pieces we share online automatically become a part of who we are and how people perceive us. It is a massive part of modernised social recruiting strategy and, in my opinion, there is a fairly bigger possibility to succeed by actually using these networks the same way people would use their private networks and people they know 50 years ago. The difference here is how much easier Internet makes everything for us. But as they say – with great power comes great responsibility. By having this powerful tool of sharing and connecting online, we have to be careful not to open ourselves up too much as it can become an enormous threat to our privacy and personal life.

The variety of social online platforms nowadays allow us to kind of distinguish between our personal lifes, family, travel and friday-nights-out and professional online networking on sites like LinkedIn. However, platforms like Facebook and Twitter have started to overlay professional vs. personal. And only us – users – are there to blame for their popularity. Anyone with an interest in modern technologies and successful business knows that these social platforms are the key to success in countless ways – advertising, recruiting, branding. And it is not only the personal vs. professional lifes we can talk about. For example, online dating sites, the odds are based on what your profile says and what pictures you put up.

However, what I want to focus on now is the idea of candidate screening through their somewhat private social media. I sometimes catch myself posting pretty personal bits of my everyday life on Twitter, sometimes in English, sometimes in Latvian, which is obviously my own responsibility as my Twitter is public. They are never embarrasing or in other way compromising, but they still are opening a door to see what I am doing in my spare time, what are my interests or where I ‘check-in’ on Foursquare. And to think that my possible future employer or partner would look at the picture of my dinner or where I go on a night out makes me shiver.

In 2012, a research was carried out within 300 employers and a suprising total of 61% of employers had rejected applicants on the basis of viewing their social network pages. 61%!!!!!! That means, more than a half of applicants had their social networks “wrong”. Has it come to the point where your spare time activities, pictures or personal views come between you and the position which you would possibly do great in?

Obviously, it is not all bad. There are things you might miss out on your CVs and other things, but have mentioned in your online profiles which make you more appealing. There might be things like this pointless blog, which shows you from a different light even though you haven’t mentioned it anywhere, except your own platforms. The great opportunities that come out of an innocent internet browsing sometimes open up an extraordinary path to self-discovery. The problem is, can we balance it out?

Last year I decided to ‘clean’ my Facebook account. I started with old pictures of my ‘teenage rebel years’ (which, to be honest,were not that rebel at all). But then after first couple of pictures I stopped. Why should I erase my memories because of fear that I might be declined a spot somewhere? Obviously, there is always a chance of changing your privacy settings (which I did, I’ll admit). But then we come back to the same question – what does it matter to another person what I do with my spare time (as long as it is legal)? How can I be judged for something that doesn’t in any way compromise me as a professional?

Privacy is implied. Privacy is not up for discussion. — Mikko Hypponen

My problem with the internet and privacy is the fact that we can’t control the content. Someone anonymous can take a snap of you on the train and just post it. That snap might or might not go viral, but why should we take a chance? Someone you know can share pictures of you or write about you on their sites and it all has no limits of sharing (at some point). My problem is the fact that the information once being unique, valuable and most importantly forgettable (erasable) now can easily become global, searchable, immortal and not at all private.

“You use your money to buy privacy because during most of your life you aren’t allowed to be normal.”
– Johnny Depp

Daniel J. Solove (2007) in his work “The future of reputation : gossip, rumor, and privacy on the Internet” is talking about the ironic truth of the Internet communication era – the free flow of information sadly threathens undermining our freedom in the future. As the author argues during his book, internet is a great tool of destruction: “People have profound new ways to communicate, yet the gossip, shaming, and rumors that are being spread online are sometimes having devastating effects on people’s lives.” (p.4) Does being free online mean actually not being free at all? And since when do we allow our online lives determine our offline identity?

So where is that balance between privacy and free speech? I don’t believe the idea of just a binary privacy that something is either private or public. No not at all, we should be able to relax and share our fun times with those we love and at the same time have the ‘luxury’ of privacy when it comes to strangers. We should not be judged by our pictures on Facebook, but by our knowledge and skills. We should not be treated like clothes on manequinns in shop windows, where the customer chooses the one that looks the best without trying it on. It should always be a two way interaction, otherwise the only thing I can compare it with is stalking. Plain and disgusting stalking.

I feel confident sharing my thoughts, ideas or impressions online, however I do think there is a line where people should stop. I do respect another persons privacy and expect anyone to do the same thing.

Even though during this post I took a clear stand of being against invading someones privacy online, I did not mean at all to say that social networking and professional social networking is all bad and intrusive. That is definitely not the case. If you ask me, I completely defend the idea and I am definitely one of the examples of “showing off my personality” on social media platforms. All I am arguing about is the fact that we should have the right of sharing our private things online without putting our future in jeopardy.

And to add to that here is some fun cartoon on the topic 🙂

Further readings:

1. Online and offline social networks: Use of social networking sites by emerging adults
2. Solove, Daniel J., The future of reputation : gossip, rumor, and privacy on the Internet, 2007
3. Motivations for Social Networking at Work
4. Does the Internet Increase, Decrease, or Supplement Social Capital?
5. Internet social network communities: Risk taking, trust, and privacy concerns
6. The ABC of Social Media Security
7. 11 tips for social networking safety
8. James D. Montgomery, Social Networks and Labor-Market Outcomes: Toward an Economic Analysis, The American Economic Review, Vol. 81, No. 5. (Dec., 1991), pp. 1408-1418.