If you’re an active social media user on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and all the rest of the platforms, you’ve established a very public presence which is generally available to the entire world. (Those of you with locked, private accounts can stop worrying.) You never know who you’ll run into in this virtual space, and in many cases you may have folks tuning in who never even make their presence known.
But unless you use your account as part of your job (the way I do, for example) that’s really part of your personal, not professional life, right? Not really. If you happen to be in the market for a new job, do you suppose that the prospective employer might be tracking you down online to see what you’re up to in your private life? This article in the Washington Post reveals that Politico regularly “discards” dozens of job applicants for any given position they have open based on things they say online.
In a social-media workshop with staff members on Friday, Sudeep Reddy, a managing editor at Politico, said that the organization discards “dozens” of job applications and referrals over inappropriate, partisan or puerile tweets. “We are deliberately nonpartisan in the kind of journalism that we pursue,” Reddy told the Erik Wemple Blog after the meeting. Politico vets “hundreds” of possible hires per week, said Reddy. “We have found on Twitter feeds revealing insight into how people write.”
Politico Editor Carrie Budoff Brown has made a priority of ensuring symmetry between the standards for Politico’s published journalism and those applying to staffers’ tweets. She took swift action in December after contract writer Julia Ioffe tweeted a vile suggestion about then-President-elect Donald Trump, and an editor resigned after posting addresses for white nationalist leader Richard Spencer.
In the case of Politico and other news organizations this is rather understandable. People who communicate with the public for a living are still communicating when they launch into a Twitter rant or post a long diatribe on their Facebook page. I suppose that can reflect on the parent organization, particularly if they are trying to present at least an impression of being unbiased distributors of news. Following the feeds of reporters from some of the larger newspapers and cable news networks can be, shall we say… enlightening at times. You can see how they’d want to avoid a connection with anyone who is too incendiary.
It extends beyond journalism as well. You may recall when Liz Mair was hired to work on Scott Walker’s nascent presidential campaign back in 2015. In short order her sometimes “intense” Twitter history, particularly when it came to opinions about Iowa’s place in the nomination process, came to light. Shortly thereafter she was unemployed.
But what if you’re in a completely different line of work? Let’s say you’re a mechanical engineer applying for a job designing factory equipment. Should an employer be checking on your Twitter history and, if so, what would they be looking for? Some of us occasionally go off on a rant, perhaps even using some salty language, on matters which have nothing to do with our professional responsibilities. For all you know, the personnel manager at the office where you are interviewing is something of a prude and doesn’t want to hire anyone who tweeted the F-word last week when complaining about the long TSA lines at the airport.
Career Builder was reporting back in 2014 that surveys of employers showed they were browsing applicants’ social media background in growing numbers and rejecting candidates based on what they found. The list of things they looked for is extensive, but some of the biggest hitters included provocative or inappropriate photographs, information about them drinking or using drugs, discriminatory comments related to race, gender or religion, and even “unprofessional screen names.”
Is that fair? I’m sure most of us put on a more professional face on the job than we do when hanging out with our friends. Absent social media, your employer never knows about such things and it seems to me that it’s really none of their business whether you swear at the television when the wide receiver on your favorite NFL team drops yet another pass. But if you’re sharing all of these reactions on social media, they may be looking at it and taking that into consideration. And given the way the hiring process works across most of the private sector, you would probably never even know that’s why someone else got the job.
This doesn’t sound like something the government could effectively regulate even if you wanted them to. It’s just a fact of life for everyone living in the digital world of the 21st century. You might want to keep that in mind next time you’re firing up your phone to check Facebook.