Foot-in-Mouth-Disease – The Benefits and Pitfalls of Maintaining a Presence on the Web

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Shortly before boarding her flight out of London’s Heathrow Airport,  IAC Director of Corporate Communications  Justine Sacco tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

By the time Ms. Sacco landed  in Cape Town,  her words had gone viral, sparking thousands of  tweets worldwide.  Or should I say thousands of angry buzzes? It seems  Ms. Sacco had become the Girl Who’d Kicked a Global Hornets’ Nest, as well as the poster face for over-privileged-white insensitivity.   The next day, IAC announced that Justine Sacco was no longer employed by them.

While I have no sympathy for Ms. Sacco, her story reminds me of the delicate balancing act we must all perform in today’s social media engulfed world.   An ever increasing number of employers now Google job applicants as part of their initial screening process. If you don’t have a ‘presence’ on the web, many prospective employers will not consider you, based on the assumption that you are not technologically savvy and that you lack twenty-first century social networking skills.

However, it’s not simply enough for just your name, photo, and a few dull facts to show up on LinkedIn or Facebook. A lot of employers are specifically seeking out employees who are a cultural fit, meaning they are looking at your hobbies, the type of volunteer work you do, the groups you belong, and the social and political comments you make to determine whether you are a good match for their organization. Career-minded job applicants are learning they have to brand themselves through their online image in order to sell themselves to employers.

At the same time, the more we reveal about ourselves  online, the greater the risk that we will commit some faux pas. It may not go viral as Ms. Sacco’s did, but it may linger on the web for years, readily accessible to anyone who Googles our name.  In fact, some employers are actually contracting firms to run Social Media Background Checks.

This, in turn, has spawned yet another type of business. Repplers,for example, now offers  a ” a tool for scrubbing your social networking accounts of job-damaging material.”

By the way, Ms. Sacco’s viral tweet does not mark the first time she’s shown a lack of judgement in the world of social media. Last January she tweeted, “I can’t be fired for things I say while intoxicated right?” Sober or otherwise, she has much to learn about public relations.

In the meantime, what do you bet that IAC will be scrupulously vetting the social networking history of its next Director of Corporate Communications?

Quotable Quotes – Attorney Steve Pearlman on Record Breaking Whistle Blower Settlement

Regarding a $14 million dollar award to an unnamed whistle-blower who went straight to the SEC without first bringing his complaint to the attention of his employer, Steve Pearlman commented that the Dodd-Frank Act has created “A new regime that encourages employees to keep eyes and ears open… Employees are deputized to act as agents of the government.”  (Source: HR Magazine, December 2013 “SEC Pays Worker Its Largest Award for Whistle-Blowing”).

I wonder if this will encourage enterprising individuals to seek employment with companies where they feel they are most likely to encounter reportable violations?