You may have heard the story of Justine Sacco, a former PR executive at an American company. Just before boarding a plane from New York to South Africa in 2013, Justine tweeted: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
Within minutes, her remarks sparked off a vicious storm on Twitter, and the tweet was soon trending worldwide. As Justine cruised in the air on the long flight, she was oblivious of the uproar her tweet had caused. The post had been retweeted and shared thousands of time, and many had been deeply offended by her carelessness and insensitivity.
When she finally settled in Cape Town ready to begin her vacation, Justine logged on to Twitter and was shocked to find tens of e-mails and text messages from her family and friends asking her to delete the post. Later, her boss wrote to her, informing her that she had been fired.
Yet at the time, Justine had only 170 followers on Twitter, and was a minnow by Twitter standards.
Another story is told of 19-year-old Netherlands goalkeeper Kjell Scherpen who was forced to apologise for some abrasive comments he made years ago about his current club Ajax Amsterdam.
In 2011, when he was 11-years-old, Scherpen said that Ajax had been ‘‘lucky’’ to win the league. At that time, he never imagined that he would end up playing for the Dutch giants in future. The hiring team caught wind of this and before he could sign his contract, the club’s CEO Edwin Van Der SAR made him write hundreds of lines, before a sizeable team of top club officials, in praise of Ajax.
The embarrassed teenager spent several minutes scribbling frantically on a stack of papers, as his new employers closely watched him.
The Internet is awash with similar stories of young people who mindlessly posted things online, and were later haunted by their posts.
How much of your personal information is on the Internet? How could this information impact your job search?
How much dirt can be dug from your online profile?
As a matter of principle, May Nyaga, a human resource manager at Copy Cat Group, looks up a potential candidate’s name online long before the interview.
‘‘That way, I am able to acquaint myself with their profile and therefore understand them better. The fastest way to know about someone’s social habits, views and character is to look through their social media timelines,’’ she says.
What is “digital dirt”?
It is any unflattering content about you that is available on social sites, including unappealing photos, rude comments or silly posts which may have been posted by your friends or by strangers. The easiest way to answer this question is to ask yourself: How clean or dirty is my online identity?
Is having a clean digital footprint important?
As a professional, it’s paramount to have a clean digital trail. Digital dirt could make you lose a good opportunity. Only a few firms are using the conventional recruitment methods that requires you to submit your resume. Most companies nowadays have automated recruitment processes which incorporate the use of Artificial Intelligence in the hiring process. This way, a candidate’s online activity and presence is tracked easily.
Do recruiters really do online searches on candidates? How often does this happen?
They do. This is the new norm in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) business and professional environment. At the touch of a button, a recruiter only needs to look up a specific name to conduct a background check of a suitable candidate. Usually, the LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles of the person will pop up on the first page. This allows the person hiring to get a glimpse of the person not just professionally but socially too.
Their judgement will be based on their personal bias from what they find out, which is not different from how they would have reviewed your resume.
How can I tell that I have digital baggage?
Make it a practice to regularly search your name on Google and other search engines and see what comes up. Everyone has had a wild phase in their life when they uploaded weird photos or posted abrasive comments on different topics. These may include being tagged by friends on photos taken during a drunken night out or in embarrassing situations. No one wants such history availed to their potential employer.
How can one peel off digital dirt?
For social media, always use the security privacy features. You can control who sees what, on your timeline. Facebook and Twitter allow you to grant viewing permission to different audiences.
There is also an e-mail alert you can activate, and it will notify you any time your name is keyed in online.
You can also use the e-mail alert for approval whenever you are tagged in photos.
Another way is to post positive content about yourself. You may publish your interests, professional achievements or hobbies. When this content is shared on multiple platforms online, it can subdue the undesirable material posted earlier.
Remember, the Internet never forgets. Even if you delete something on social media, it can surface elsewhere.
Can my name feature on a site I have never visited?
Sometimes your identity could get mixed up with someone else’s especially if you share common names. If this happens, you could contact the site operator to pull down the information. You will need to state your reason. To avoid such a mix-up, consider including your middle name in your profile.