A 'green cross code' guide to social media risks

Written by
Peter Coe

05 Feb 2016

05 Feb 2016 • by Peter Coe

Think before you tweet

We live in a world where technology is at the forefront of our daily routine, yet we don’t realise the power we have – quite literally – at our fingertips. We are now constantly connected; these online platforms have become an extension of our lives, and we have, perhaps, lost the ability to distinguish our ‘online’ from our ‘offline’ lives.  ‘Moments’, borne out of emotion, frustration; casual comments or immature remarks, in the click of a mouse or flick of a finger, are there for the world to see: formalised and permanent.

When it comes to recruitment, candidates are increasingly judged on their past online posts. The case of Paris Brown illustrates this. At 17-years-old, Paris was the first Youth Police Crime Commissioner. However, after just six days, she resigned from her role over comments she had posted on twitter – which could be interpreted as homophobic and racist – dating back to when she was as young as 14. In an interview, she admitted of having ‘fallen into a trap of behaving with bravado on social networking sites’, but denied she held these views. A Google search for ‘Paris Brown’ today still lists, within the top five results, a Daily Mail article from 2013 calling her ‘foul-mouthed’ and ‘offensive’. Thus, the stigma attached to these comments could follow Paris for the rest of her career.

How many employers judge prospective candidates on their social media activity?

Damage caused by irresponsible use of social media is something that appears to be increasingly important to prospective employers. Candidates’ online activity is frequently examined before deciding whether or not to offer an interview – often without the knowledge of their HR department.

Indeed, in 2013, research carried out by the CIPD found that 2 out of 5 employers look at candidates’ online activity or social media profiles to help inform their recruitment decisions. More recent research by the University of Paris-Sud at the recent Amsterdam Privacy Conference 2015, revealed that around 75% of employers use social media to screen candidates. However, as many organisations do not officially use social media for this purpose (but do so unofficially), it is likely that these figures are a conservative estimate.

While the basics of safety online are well known – for example, not giving out personal information – there is little by way of advice to help individuals develop a positive online presence.

The PAUSE green cross code for social media use

An awareness of the permanence of social media activity is vital. The acronym, PAUSE, can help you to detach yourself from the immediacy of social media and avoid the potential pitfalls of a fleeting or emotional response post.

P: Remember that everything put online has the potential to be seen by anybody and everybody, and that it can be PERMANENT.

A: Before posting, tweeting, sharing, texting or uploading, think about your AUDIENCE and how it could affect them and/or their opinion of you and others, both now and in the future.

U: If you are still UNSURE, ask for a second opinion from somebody you trust.

S: STOP AND THINK about the impact your online activity may have on your privacy and reputation, or the privacy and reputation of others.

E: If you are uncomfortable with anything that’s been tweeted, posted, shared or uploaded, END your involvement immediately.

Going forward: setting guidelines and standards

Employers have a role to play in explaining what an ‘acceptable’ online profile should look like, and some sectors and businesses still prefer their employees to have no online presence at all. These are all things that employees need to know, and employers have a responsibility to share.

Advice is freely given on CV presentation of qualifications and experience, so why not on what a positive social media profile should be? Is it an engagement with key issues through evidence of wider reading?

It would be great if companies signed up to a code of conduct, agreeing for an amnesty on candidates’ online indiscretions which occurred before a certain age – although changing organisations’ recruitment and selection policies is not that easy. However, educating and guiding individuals on their use of social media and the creation of a positive online presence, can only be beneficial to all parties involved.