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You Are Being Watched -- And Judged

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Yes, you are being watched! What you write (or say) online "can be used against you" in the court of public opinion or in the privacy of an employer's or a recruiter's office. Yet, it appears that too many people are not aware that what they do online, in the "privacy" of their social media accounts, is often very widely visible.

This wide visibility can help or hurt both their careers and their job hunting. In this post, we'll explore how people may be hurt by what they post.

The Age of Google and Social Media

In the age of Google and social media, caution is required -- more caution than many people are using. It's not your Grandmother's Internet any more!

Two very important things to be aware of in the Age of Google and Social Media:

1.) MOST of what is contributed online in social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter is visible to the world, including to search engines.

2.) Google, the dominant search engine providing responses to more that two-thirds of the world's searches, responds to an average of 16.4 million searches an hour. Those searches are done by both current employers and co-workers as well as recruiters and potential employers -- people you probably want to impress (positively).

Whenever you make a comment online, pretend your mother, your current boss (if you have a job), or a recruiter for your "ideal" employer is looking over your shoulder and reading what you wrote.

Because in our current real/virtual reality world, your employer may be watching.

Freedom of Speech Doesn't Protect You

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about employers and recruiters Googling job applicants before inviting them into an interview. Many people commented that such activities by employers was evil, unfair, and nasty, compromising their privacy and impinging on their "freedom of speech" as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

"Freedom of speech" is the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It prohibits the government from limiting citizens' rights to say whatever they want to say in public. A few exceptions exist. Yelling "FIRE!" in a crowded movie theater when there is no fire or revealing classified information is not "protected speech."

However, the First Amendment does not mean that people won't -- or can't -- judge you by what you say or write in public. It's not "freedom from anyone/everyone judging you by what you say."

So, we can -- and regularly do -- judge each other by what we say or write in a public forum like Facebook, The Huffington Post, LinkedIn, and other websites. In fact, we judge each other all the time.

The Losses Caused by Your Negative Behavior May Not Be Visible to You

People often assume that if they don't receive negative feedback about theirbehavior, that everything is fine, that no problem exists for them. Unfortunately, not true.

For example:

A recruiter recently shared that they were considering proposing a specific person to their client, and then read that person's postings in a LinkedIn group relevant to the work. With the "See this Member's activity" option, LinkedIn makes it very easy to see a group member's other postings in the Group. Several of this person's postings were just plain nasty -- someone who would not be a pleasant person to work with. So, no connection was made. End of opportunity.

I participate in several LinkedIn groups, and often I am amazed at what people write in groups and other similar public forums. I have seen reasonable questions draw vitriolic responses from people who apparently have no built-in personal censor helping them control their worst impulses (or who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol when they respond). Who would want to network with someone like that online? As a consequence of such behavior, a negative impression is created in the minds of the many people reading those entries. Opportunities limited.

Another recruiter I have spoken with this year was on the verge of inviting someone in for an interview, but, after a quick Google search revealed the applicant apparently spent most weekends drinking and partying, which they fully documented on Facebook, the interview invitation evaporated. End of opportunity.

A Wall Street Journal article contained a report about an employee who made a Facebook post about going out to dinner with friends and then smoking "reefer" after dinner. It was seen by management and other employees. Opportunities limited.

A LinkedIn member repeatedly makes very negative comments about recruiters, employers, and how difficult the job search process is. He labels any kind of job search post as "Total BS!" with additional comments about how evil recruiters and employers are. On LinkedIn, all of these posts are clearly connected to his name and profile. Opportunities limited.

A Human Resources manager shared with me that his company fired an employee who wrote angry statements on his personal Facebook page about another employee and his boss concerning a work situation. End of employment.

Except for the last example, none of these people had any idea that they were "passed over" or will have limited opportunities because of what they personally made visible online.

Avoid These 7 Negative Activities Online

Are you creating positive or negative visibility for yourself? These online activities make a negative impression:

1.) Using foul language.

2.) Describing participation in illegal activities.

3.) Exhibiting rude behavior. Name calling. Personal attacks. Bullying. Intimidation.

4.) Denigrating a religion, politician, political party, country, ethnic group, gender, sexual preference, etc.

5.) Seeming to be incoherent/drunk/drugged.

And, particularly if you are currently employed, avoid these two, also:

6.) Slamming the current employer, boss, co-workers, or products and services (disloyalty, bad judgment).

7.) Announcing your search for a new job. (Yikes! This can result in a quick termination.)

Unless you are writing a carefully, coherent review of a product or service on a site like Amazon or Yelp or you are a "mean" comedian, there is no personal benefit to being publicly negative about anyone or anything. Mom was right when she told you, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." Such good advice that it has become a cliche.

What to Do About Any Past Bad Behavior

Remove what you can remove. You can easily delete your posts and comments in LinkedIn, and you can do it relatively easily on Facebook. If a friend or relative has posted something on Facebook with your name attached to it that puts you in a negative light, ask them to remove it. True friends will remove it. Hopefully, your family will also. If material cannot be removed, it will gradually become less visible over time.

Then, make a promise to yourself to be more careful of your personal reputation in the future.

For more information:

Follow me on GooglePlus and Twitter (@JobHuntOrg) for more job search tips. Join the Job-Hunt Help LinkedIn Group for more help with your job search.

Susan P. Joyce is president of NETability, Inc. and the editor and chief technology writer for Job-Hunt.org and WorkCoachCafe.com. Susan contributes to HuffingtonPost.com and LinkedIn, YouTern.com, NextAvenue.org, and BrazenCareerist. This post was originally published on WorkCoachCafe.com.