The CIA of Social Media is Watching You!

SpyingWe’ve all been warned to be careful about what we post online because employers may look up job candidates on Google, but now it’s official: the Federal Trade Commission has approved the actions of Social Intelligence Corporation, a start-up that screens and monitors your actions on the Internet. Now, your typical background check may involve a social media background check, in addition to criminal and credit background checks.

Furthermore, companies can hire Social Intelligence to keep tabs on you throughout your stay in a position; some of their clients are in the Fortune 500, and health and education sectors. No matter how hard you work, you could be booted if they find evidence of incriminating activity online.

Mario Armstrong, tech and digital lifestyle expert, shares Facebook privacy tips on CNN American Morning to help you stay on top of your social media profile:

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Now’s the Time to Take Stock

Chief Operations Officer of Social Intelligence Geoffrey Andrews has confirmed with Forbes that around 5 to 20% of all job applicants they handle have incriminating information on the Internet. This percentage is higher for youth who typically have more of an Internet presence.

The company not only looks for provocative or embarrassing drug- and alcohol-related party photos, but also checks if you disclose private company information, sell the company’s products illegally, bash on the company or fight with employees.

Social Intelligence has made Internet monitoring more standardized and long-term, supported by improved technology that can track online names and pseudonyms as well. If you’ve shoo-shooed the idea of cleaning up your online presence, now is the time to be more conscious of what you do online that may threaten your job. You’re not going to slip by anymore because anything publicly available on the Internet is fair game.

What NOT to Do

Forbes contributor, Kashmir Hill, received three examples from real Social Intelligence reports that lead to dismissals of job candidates:

  1. On Hi5, a job applicant holds a rifle, handgun and sword while drinking alcohol.
  2. A job applicant “Likes” a Facebook group that apparently shows racist tendencies. The group is entitled, “I should not have to press 1 for English. We are in the United States, learn the language!”
  3. A job applicant illegally seeks oxycontin, a heroin-like drug, on Craigslist.

There’s a Good Side to All of This

The positive aspect about this new arrangement is that Social Intelligence also seeks to protect you. They prevent employment discrimination ensuring that race, religion and sexuality are not included in reports. At one point, Social Intelligence even refused to work with a Colorado company that asked for information on their employees’ sexual orientation.

As a consumer reporting agency, Social Intelligence must also follow the rules of the Fair Credit Reporting Act by ensuring the best accuracy in their reporting, and verifying that job applicants and employees are informed upon any negative consequences due to their reports. Furthermore, the company gives you the opportunity to change any incriminating factors and dispute a record. Andrews clarified that although Social Intelligence keeps your information for up to seven years for legal reasons, the previous negative data aren’t pulled up when new employers request a report.

Action Steps

Stay aware of your online presence by conducting a Google search of yourself and thoroughly sift through the results. You can no longer smother information because Social Intelligence will find incriminating data even if they’re on the 50th page of your Google results.

Social Intelligence does not pull information that’s not publicly available, so set appropriate privacy settings on your social media accounts, especially on Facebook in which most default settings are public.

If you’re using Google Chrome, also consider the Internet Shame Insurance extension that pops up reminders when you’re going to post on Facebook, send a public tweet or “reply all” to an email.

Do you feel confident that your online presence isn’t incriminating? What steps have you taken to make sure your online presence is clean?

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  1. Posted July 21, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Here’s the New York Times reporting an affirmation of the above…

    • Posted July 26, 2011 at 5:58 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Roy! This was an article I used in my research too! Good to have it up here! =)

  2. Posted July 26, 2011 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    I worked for several years with soldiers who were leaving the military for civilian life. I preached this very idea to the younger soldiers, because wild, drunken party pics do not impress potential employers. Neither do nasty language and online arguments via Facebook or Twitter. It is scary that a company will make a living finding someone’s indiscretions! Interesting post!

    • Posted August 4, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

      Ooh! That’s a great example, Peggy!

      The concept of the SIA is definitely interesting and even a little intriguing. Imagine making a living off of peeking into and revealing others’ so-called secrets. =P

      Thanks so much for your feedback!

  3. Posted July 26, 2011 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Hi Sam,

    This is a very salient information…thank you for keeping us in the online biz aware of this..I’ve heard so much abt keeping toll with regulations to make sure that everyone’s on their toes and pay attention…as authorities want us to know that they are serious with what they’re doing…this is such a timely article…

    Keep coming, Sam !


    • Posted August 4, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

      It’s truly a piece of news that I thought was share-worthy, Nellie! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and for the encouragement! =)

  4. Posted July 26, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Great information Sam…I’ve be working to communicate this information to my social media clients for years now. I’m really not surprised to see an organization like the SIA arise. I’m sure there will be more organizations like this to come.

    • Posted August 4, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

      Thanks so much, Michael! I so hope this can be a powerful piece of evidence for you to use with your social media clients! It’s true — there’s only more to come! =)

  5. Abe
    Posted July 26, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    I wish the youth today would understood the importance of what you have shared in this post. People today are so attached to scocial networks that it has become an extention of who they are and what they are capable of doing. I have had to sit with employees and warn them of their statments posted on blogs and facebook and the concequences that would take place if they continued in such a way. I have always tried to conduct myself as a representitive of the person I should be and the company I work for. It’s not a hard thing to do and will prepell you into dimentions that lude and illegal conduct won’t.

    • Posted August 4, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

      Well said, Abe! Social networks can be positive when used responsibly. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. You definitely set a powerful example! =)

  6. Posted September 4, 2011 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    Hi Samantha, Excellent article! I can understand companies wanting background information on potential employees, including their internet profile. I’m glad there is going to be an organization that will research this professionally and look at public information.

    Abe is correct, many people have had youthful indiscretions, but posting them on Facebook is just a bad idea that could come back to haunt kids. I’m afraid this generation might have to learn this lesson the hard way!

    Thanks so much for sharing your valuable research with us, Sam!

    • Posted September 4, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      Thanks so much, Carolyn! I also like the idea of this process being more standardized and transparent. At the same time, like you, I hope that the younger generation won’t have to learn the hard way!

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