Have you ever been in an online chatgroup that made you uncomfortable? Or have you ever seen online postings that you felt crossed a line in some way? What did you do? Think about the times when social media platforms caused you to stop and consider your own online presence. What were those postings and why do you remember them?
Harvard University recently rescinded admission offers for at least 10 students for an obscene Facebook chat. The prospective members of the Harvard Class of 2021 reportedly were part of a small Facebook chat designed for admitted students to share explicit memes and messages. The incident has sparked a lot of discussion: Was Harvard’s decision justified? Did the university do enough to explain its decision or to create a space for discussion around it?
Singaporeans are one of the most active social media users in the world with a social penetration rate of 70%, which is more than double the global average of 34%, according to ‘Digital in 2017’ cited by The Business Times. The report also showed more than three in four Singaporeans using social media now, up 22 per cent from 2016, writes The Business Times. In recent years, social media has also affected politics in Singapore.
Children nowadays regard social media as a prophylactic that allows for any behaviour or utterance, without parental or other influences. Social medial applications can further misguide young users, giving them the impression that they can somehow vaporise photos or comments from the cloud forever.
In contrast, Millennials and Gen Xers either grew up with some kind of social media, or were introduced to it relatively early on. Apart from focusing around social uses to connect with friends, family, and entertainment, these generations focus around educational purposes that allow them to engage with news content, and to stay up-to-date with timely events and news. They tend to make use of social media in the workplace as well, either to find a job or to work on career-related matters. In some cases, they use social media as an avenue to voice out their opinions on certain issues.
Mind Your ‘Electronic Tattoo’
As the use of social media continues to evolve, the concept of presenting our ideal selves versus our authentic selves has become more and more prevalent. The question we have to ask ourselves is: Are we really presenting our authentic selves or are we presenting a hyper-idealistic version of ourselves on social media? Our “authentic self” is who we are – our attributes, our characteristics, and our personality. Our “ideal self” is who we feel we should be, much of it due to societal and environmental influences.
From a societal standpoint, many individuals are driven by competition, achievement, and status or to belong to a certain social group, which results in the creation and portrayal of our ideal selves on the social platforms that may sometimes be a misrepresentation of our true selves.
In 2013, Juan Enriquez – a Mexican-American academic, businessman, and speaker – shared in his TED talk entitled ‘Your online life, permanent as a tattoo’ that social media has become a form of electronic tattoo, providing information about who and what you are.
He shared how it has become very difficult for us to remain anonymous in our current digital age since almost every electronic application we use daily (for example, Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, GPS, Travel Advisor) leaves an electronic footprint. With technologies such as facial recognition, we could easily check the background of a person even before physically meeting the person, from a photograph shared on Facebook. With such transparency, companies are now able to find out the preference of individuals and promote products based on the information of their behavioural patterns gathered online. It is therefore vital for us to be careful of our online presence, since our electronic tattoos will live longer than our physical bodies.
In 2015, another TED talk by Jon Ronson – a Welsh journalist, author, documentary filmmaker, screenwriter, and radio presenter – entitled ‘When online shaming goes too far’ touched on the same problem. He presented an example of how a lady by the name of Justine Sacco, a senior Corporate Communications Director from New York, posted a careless “racist” tweet that ruined her career and her life after it was retweeted by one of her followers while she was asleep and offline on an 11-hour flight to Africa.
He also pointed out that while there were some people who were genuinely upset by Justine’s tweet, social media has manipulated our desire to gain approval from others. In this case, to be seen as being compassionate towards a third world country, it had led the audience of the tweet to act in a profoundly un-compassionate manner to shame and crush Justine.
Jon shared with the audience about the phrase “misuse of privilege” becoming a free pass to tear apart pretty much anybody we choose to, making it a devalued term. It has also made us lose our capacity for empathy and for distinguishing between serious and unserious transgressions on social media.
While social media has given the voiceless a voice, it has also created a surveillance society, where people are creating a stage of constant artificial high drama where everyone is either a magnificent hero or a sickening villain, even though in reality we know that that is is not entirely true about our fellow human.
In his book entitled ‘So you’ve been publicly shamed’, Jon compares social media condemnation to the public floggings of centuries ago. He urges people to consider what they post online both in regard to sharing their own views or commenting on the views of others.
Regardless of their age group or the purpose of using social media, social media has somehow become part of a person’s brand – a brand that can help you or hurt you, either for your future employers, potential dates or partner, or even your admission to university. How should you portray yourself without losing your authentic self on social media? What can we do to prevent our “electronic tattoo” from ruining our future? How should we train ourselves to consider what we post online both in regard to sharing our own views or commenting on the views of others?
Effects on Career
According to an online study by JobsCentral in 2012, at least three in four employers (75.1 per cent) would do online researches on potential job candidates in Singapore. Social media sites, mainly LinkedIn (38.4 per cent) and Facebook (34.3 per cent), are the most commonly used channels by snooping employers.
Below are some examples of cases in Singapore where individuals were dismissed from their jobs due to their postings on social media.
Facebook user Mr Ridhuan Abdullah, then-security officer at Keith Morton who posted vulgar abuse in response to Mother’s Day wishes by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, had been sacked from his job. Published by Straits Times, MAY 15, 2014
Then-Australian expat Sonny Truyen, whose age is not known, made offensive comments that triggered a social media storm, after insulting Singaporeans on Facebook on how mobile app Pokemon Go was not yet available in Singapore. He was dismissed by his then-employer, 99.co chief executive Darius Cheung. Published by Straits Times, JULY 12, 2016
In Oct 2012, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) sacked an assistant director from its membership division after she posted racist remarks on her personal Facebook account.
Then-TTSH nurse Mr Ello Ed Mundsel Bello wrote that Singaporeans are “loosers” (losers), and that he was “praying that disators (disasters) will strike Singapore”, which went viral. Furious petitions for his job termination intensified on social media, leading to his eventual loss of job. Published by Straits Times, JAN 9,2015.
How to Improve Your Online Presence
How can job seekers avoid these social media transgressions? The Epoch Times conducted an exclusive interview with online recruiter FindSgJobs to suss out some tips to help job seekers improve their social media presence.
Do recruiters request for job seekers’ social media user identity on the resume?
In recent years, there are concerns about social media after online postings from employees led to their employment to be terminated.
In 2014, a British banker lost his job due to a series of abusive photographs on Facebook and offensive remarks. Two years later, an expatriate was fired after an offensive Facebook rant criticising Singapore due to the mobile game Pokemon Go not being available in the country.
Now most employers do not request for job seeker’s user identity, but a simple search online with the candidate’s name would be enough to narrow down the search to see their social media presence. Even if the online postings are not a reflection of the employer but as an employee, it represents the values of the company and its brand.
Maybe in a few years’ time, more employers would consider job seekers’ social media user identity on the resume, especially when companies realise the impact of what employees say on social media can indirectly affect the company’s reputation.
What are the red flags that you spot in social media?
There are two main red flags that our Social Media Recruiters face when reaching out to job seekers on social media.
Firstly, some job seekers use accounts that do not reflect themselves – no display photo, content and even basic information. For our recruiters, they do not engage these job seekers any further as it has the potential to not be the actual person whom they claim to be. When we refer candidates to employers, we have to ensure that the job seeker’s social media user identity is the same on the resume to prevent fraud.
Secondly is when job seekers indicate false information in their resume. It could be easily verified by the basic information and content found on their social media accounts without them realising.
For such job seekers, we would not refer them as they would not be classified as genuine and may not take their application sincerely.
Do the posts that job seekers make on social media affect the decision making process for recruiters?
Postings that job seekers make on social media can affect decision-making for employers. The hiring manager would check the job seeker’s Facebook to see if the candidate shares any negative remarks about the previous employment or anything that is against the values of the company. This c
ould be an indication that the person would do the same under new employment as compared to raising the issue to the management. For established brands, they would have concerns of corporate image and during induction programmes, the new employee will go through strict guidelines on social media postings about the company.
Are there some examples that you can share with us (the recruiting firm and the job seeker’s identity may remain anonymous)?
An example is when our Social Media Recruiter [was] doing an outreach with job seekers on social media for a security role for one of our clients.
Due to the nature of the work, it requires a level of confidentiality, [but we found out that] one of the job seekers interested was not suitable as the person was taking selfies at the company’s operations room, [which were] shown in the profile timeline. Despite meeting the pre-requisites, the person was not referred as there [was a] mismatch of values, and confidentiality was not observed at work.
Could you share some tips on what recruiters look out for on job seekers’ social media profiles?
Firstly, content is the first item recruiters look out for. Content that is offensive or anything discriminatory could one day put the company in [a bad light if it]
involves racial or religious issues. For job seekers, they must be able to distinguish and filter through appropriate content.
Frequency of postings, comments, and even likes can also reveal the job seeker’s social media behaviour. Some would view high frequency of postings every hour and relate it to lack of focus and distraction when one would start work. There would be concerns of productivity if the job seeker spends working hours on social media.
Relevant content is the last item recruiters look out for. If a job seeker claims to love a profession, their social media would show it. They would have shared videos and mentioned jokes that are relatable to the profession.
Could you provide some advice on how job seekers can clean up their social media profile?
Advice 1: Professionalism on LinkedIn
Ensure that the LinkedIn profile is complete with work history. Do not leave gaps in your work history as some recruiters will view your profile to confirm certain information. Update your display picture with a professional photo once every 2-3 years. Get your skills endorsed by colleagues or supervisors as compared to friends, who may be seen as less credible.
If you are interested to pursue a career in an industry or job role, do share news feeds or comments on posts that are related. This shows the recruiter that you are in tune with industry trends and updated on latest news.
Advice 2: Showcase your personality
Activities you do from day to day and updates you provide on other social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram show your personality better in an informal way. Recruiters can better understand you and assess if there is any alignment in values with the organisation’s culture.
Advice 3: Remove potential problems
Problems refer to barriers that could jeopardise chances of securing the job position. Badmouthing about previous employment is one of them, [as well as] content that is unfavourable to the nature of work. You can either delete or adjust your privacy settings accordingly.
The best is to do a search online for “social media clean up” and it would show you various tools that can assist you in making content or your digital footprint clean.
With the pervasiveness of social media in recent years, it becomes inevitable that job seekers need to mind their netiquette.
Here are nine blunders you should avoid on your social media as a job seeker:
1. Information on social media not tallying with resume/what was said during interview
2. Sharing of confidential information about previous employers
3. Bad-mouthing previous company or fellow employee
4. Discrimination against a certain race, gender or religion
5. Evidence to show linkage to criminal behaviour
6. Posts on drinking or using drugs
7. Provocative or inappropriate photographs or information
8. Poor communication skills
9. Unprofessional screen/nickname
Social media has become an eminent part of our lives, and it does have many benefits when we use the platform wisely. It is up to us as individuals to gauge how we should manage our social media profile and also to preserve our authenticity as individuals, to stop comparing ourselves with others, and to constantly align our “true” self with our “ideal” self, to put more effort towards working to achieve the status of our “ideal” self.
So what can we do to clean things up? Research on the prospective company, institution etc. Constantly check on your social media profiles – even for profiles that have not been updated for some time – and remove any content that would send the wrong messages. If what we post is something we do not want our future employer or date or even administrative officer to see, we should not post it. If it has already been posted, then we should remove it. Always give ourselves time to pause and think before we share something online, for the “electronic tattoo” might crush someone else or permanently damage our reputation.