7 Tips for Social Media Safety

Remember: Law Enforcement - and Potential Employers - are Watching What You Say and Do Online
7 Tips for Social Media Safety
Think twice the next time a contact tries to "friend" you on Facebook or "follows" you on Twitter. It may turn out to be an undercover fed looking to scrutinize your employment history or examine your personal references.

U.S. law enforcement agents are following people into popular social-networking sites, going undercover with false online profiles to communicate with suspects, gather private information and view photos and videos that are restricted to a user's network. Their main intention is to trail and catch criminals, tax evaders and other wrongdoers, as well as gather evidence to support their cases.

"Whatever feds do on social media impacts your career," says Michele Porfilio, strategic sourcing director for Crowe Horwath LLP, a public accounting and consulting firm. "Especially when there is inconsistency in information posted, as well as information you will be easily embarrassed by."

Information on social media sites has been used against employees in ways ranging from performance evaluation to legal risk. For example, when an employee files for disability compensation and during the same period posts pictures of physical activity. "There are real concerns in terms of how social media can affect your employment status and potential job opportunities by what you do on a daily basis on these sites," says Porfilio.

Recently, a San Francisco-based civil rights advocacy group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued the Justice Department and five other federal agencies under the Freedom of Information Act to force the government to disclose its policies for using social networking sites in investigations, data collection and surveillance.

As a result of the lawsuit, the foundation obtained documents from the Department of Justice and the Internal Revenue Service that describe the value of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn and other sites.

However, the boundaries are still unclear. "These documents don't really discuss any mechanisms for accountability or ensuring that government agents use those tools responsibly," says Marcia Hofmann, a senior attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"There needs to be a proper justifiable framework and procedure in place to understand the parameters for such type of activity to occur," says David Navetta, founding partner of the Information Law Group and co-chair of the American Bar Association's information security committee. "So far there is no procedure to hold the government responsible or remedies for individuals whose privacy may have been compromised as a result of these investigations."

7 Tips for Job Seeker's Safety
From a job seeker's perspective, one needs to be consistent in one's activities and information posted about employment history, business references and recommendations provided. "The slightest conflict in their profiles can make them a potential target for fraud and ruin their online reputation," says Porfilio.

The employer, on the other hand, needs to ensure that online hiring practices are fair and not discriminatory. How do they source their candidates? What kind of background checks do they perform? What are their typical factors for selection? "These investigations are only likely to get more widespread and intense, pushing the need for transparency in the employer-employee relationship," says Porfilio.

Tips for ensuring online safety include:

  • Use Good Judgment: Consider how your comments would be perceived before you actually post them, and put logic above emotion at all times. "Before you hit 'post,' realize that this will be a permanent reflection of your identity, and it may never be erased," says Porfilio. Assume that anything you put on a social networking site will be seen by third parties, and "ask yourself whether you would want that seen," says Navetta.

  • Know Your Contact: "The key is: know your contacts," says Navetta. Do not accept friend requests from suspicious people. Use proper introductions when adding users as friends or connections. Once you connect with somebody, they will have access to your information, and -- depending on who they are -- you might not want them to have that level of access. A good practice is to go through your contact list frequently to ensure you have a tight and trusted network of people, says Navetta.

  • Do Not Tag Photos: "Don't allow individuals to tag your photo, as unflattering pictures could end up costing you or your friends their jobs," says Porfilio. A big risk in your friend putting that picture up of you from college doing silly things, and then tagging the picture -- It might also get picked up on a search engine. So, if a recruiter does a search, it could come up. There are settings in social media sites to prevent friends from being able to tag you.

  • Change Your Passwords: often and do not use the same password for social networking sites that you use for your email accounts and online banking.

  • Know Your Privacy Settings: Many sites such as Facebook provide users with a great deal of control over who can access their information. Those settings can be confusing, says Navetta, but there are websites like these that explain how to lock down Facebook's privacy settings, including BusinessInsider.com. Note also that Facebook is creating simplified privacy settings for future use.

  • Be Consistent: Using the same photo, consistent profile language, message and links on all social media sites reduces the chances of identity theft and generates trustworthiness and recognition among employers when conducting background checks. "Job seekers also need to think twice before clicking on any links in social media sites, as these links can show up on their online history and result in turning off recruiting and hiring managers," says Porfilio.

  • Avoid Controversial Statements: If you think that somebody could take offense with respect to a political view or offensive language or comments, don't make them on a social media site that can be viewed by others, says Navetta. "Remember: if there is nothing offensive on your site, there is nothing for potential employers to get judgmental about."

About the Author

Upasana Gupta

Upasana Gupta

Contributing Editor, CareersInfoSecurity

Upasana Gupta oversees CareersInfoSecurity and shepherds career and leadership coverage for all Information Security Media Group's media properties. She regularly writes on career topics and speaks to senior executives on a wide-range of subjects, including security leadership, privacy, risk management, application security and fraud. She also helps produce podcasts and is instrumental in the global expansion of ISMG websites by recruiting international information security and risk experts to contribute content, including blogs. Upasana previously served as a resource manager focusing on hiring, recruiting and human resources at Icons Inc., an IT security advisory firm affiliated with ISMG. She holds an MBA in human resources from Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield, Iowa.

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