It's more or less common knowledge that once you post something on the internet, it's no longer in your control. Even if you delete an embarrassing photo you once uploaded, there's no stopping someone else from downloading it to their computer and saving it elsewhere.
Still despite the fact that we post all the, sometimes quite intimate, details of our lives to Facebook it feels like such a violation when a boss or supervisor brings something up that they saw online. Much more so, when something you've posted online comes to haunt you when you're looking for a new job.
But it seems to happen all the time. The journalist and writer Jon Ronson recently wrote an entire book, So You've Been Publicly Shamed, about people whose lives have been ruined by careless things they said or did online. These are seemingly innocuous mistakes that anyone could make— ones that would go unnoticed or easily forgiven in real life.
For example, a misguided joke or remark that comes off as racist. Or a scandalous photograph on your 21st birthday. Or in one example from the aforementioned book a young woman whose name I won't repeat because, y'know, the whole public shaming, who took what she and her friend thought was a funny photograph at Arlington National. Cemetery and were slammed for it on social media.
Sure, it could have been construed as disrespectful, but the woman meant no disrespect in taking it. She simply wasn't thinking about where she was and how the picture would appear. But for years she had trouble finding a job because first page search results for her name were littered with that photo.
By the same token, there is a very real possibility that anyone's working life could be ruined by a careless post to Facebook or Twitter. Particularly when you have potential employers googling you and stalking your Facebook history.
What can the average person do to protect themselves? The easy answer is to set your profile to private, but that doesn't stop your friends from tagging you in posts when their profile is public. Besides, anyone with a little computer savvy can find ways around Facebook's less than comprehensive privacy settings.
When does it create a hostile work environment? Do things that happen online, off of company property, constitute workplace bullying? Is a co-worker who looks up information about you online a stalker? What's the big deal anyway, why not just log off the internet and find some fresh air? Find out in part two of our series on cyber bullying and cyber stalking in the workplace.