Sharing Inappropriate Photos or Information Online

Some social media slip-ups are egregious. For instance, a young Taco Bell employee found himself out of a job after he posted a picture on Facebook of himself licking a huge stack of taco shells. Of course, such an appealing snapshot went viral. Across the pond, a Buckingham Palace guard was fired for calling Kate Middleton a “stupid stuck up cow” on Facebook. (And those unsmiling fellows all seem so serious at the changing of the guard!)

Other missteps are more subtle. Twenty-four-year-old teacher Ashley Payne made the news in 2011 after a Facebook photo resulted in her losing her job at a Georgia high school. The photo in question showed Ms. Payne holding a glass of wine in one hand and a beer in the other, grinning broadly. The photo was taken during a trip to Europe in summer 2009. A parent complained to the school board about the picture, and the principal subsequently asked Ms. Payne to resign willingly or be fired. In a Georgia Daily News article Ms. Payne said she did not know how a parent got past her strong privacy settings to access the photo.

Posting photos isn’t the only way to make a bad impression online. Words can be just as damaging. A Massachusetts waitress complained online about a stingy tip only to be shown the door for badmouthing customers. And how could anyone forget how Gilbert Gottfried lost his enviable position as the vocal artist behind the Aflac duck after his tasteless tweets about the 2011 tsunami in Japan?

Employers and admissions officers are increasingly using the internet as an investigative tool to check up on employees and candidates.

  • On Device Research, based in London, reports that 10 percent of people age 16 to 34 have been passed over for a job opportunity due to their unappealing online profiles. 
  • A 2013 CareerBuilder survey found that 39 percent of companies check up on prospective employees’ social media usage. What’s more, 43 percent of those who checked said that information from social media made them decide not to hire someone.
  • The top turn-offs for hiring managers were inappropriate photos, indications of drug or alcohol use, and trash talk about former employers.
  • In a 2011 survey, Kaplan Test Prep found that 24 percent of college admissions officers checked applicants’ Facebook pages. Of those who took a peek, 12 percent rejected applicants based on what they saw, including “essay plagiarism, vulgarities in blogs, alcohol consumption in photos and ‘illegal activities.’”

Some material is an obvious no-no online:  that photo album from spring break, provocative exchanges with a significant other, a comment about your on-going felony case, or a profanity-laced status about your annoying boss. Sexting and other forms of intimate electronic communication are also risky; keep in mind that they can reach audiences other than the one you intend. You may not realize it, but it’s also a bad idea to share your religious beliefs, political views, or health problems publicly online, because that information makes you vulnerable to discrimination from current or future employers.

--Liz Soltan