11/23/2010 02:11 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Risking Your Career and Reputation on Facebook

I use Facebook and rather enjoy keeping up with the current news and yarns of friends and relatives. And yet, it never fails to amaze me when I see comments and pictures that are quite self effacing, yes downright destructive.

Realize this; the boss or big brother is watching. You may say, "What I do on my own time is none of their business." The reality is they can see whatever you or your friends share on social networking sites. You say, no worries, you have protected your privacy by limiting access to your information. Think again, there are simple ways to back in to your information by tapping your friends and acquaintances. But, according to a Proofpoint, Inc. survey in 2009, eight percent of companies terminated employees for malfeasance related to social networking. This is compared to four percent in 2008, a remarkable increase. Many say that it's just not fair that employers or prospective employers can look at your social networking information but it is a simple, accessible tool for checking out the lifestyles of prospective employees. They can and WILL use this method to check the credibility of employees.

Many people throw vulgarity around like it's a badge of honor. Since when has one particularly egregious four letter word become so common? Whether you realize it or not, vulgarity doesn't belong on public social networking, at least it doesn't if you care about your reputation. It weakens you and brings negative attention to you. It angers me to see smart, upwardly mobile people who are not using good, common sense.

Many people vent about their jobs or their bosses on their sites, really? One woman posted on Facebook that she hated her job and called the boss a "perv." The boss saw it and he fired her on the spot. Employees have called in sick, left for a well-publicized vacation, and fired for fraud. Many teachers have lost their jobs due to behaviors unbecoming of their profession. Take a look at these eye-popping examplesof people who have been fired due to Facebook posts. Learn from their mistakes and don't post your negative thoughts about your boss or your company on your site; that is unless you don't care about risking your career.

Facebook is a detective's dream. Police detectives and private investigators use social networking as a free tool to find evidence that previously took much more time and effort. The more you reveal, the more accessible and available your personal information becomes. Criminals are out there watching for information about when you will be on vacation, and when the kids are home alone. Be vigilant and don't provide too much information that can potentially harm you.

And, how perfect Facebook is for a vendetta. The scorned ex-girlfriend with provocative pictures who wants to get back at the ex-boyfriend has a perfect mechanism to post embarrassing information that could affect his personal and professional life. One scorned ex husband posted provocative pictures of his former wife to get back at her on her wedding day. Of course you can do it but you know what they say about paybacks.

You may be "tagged" by photos that you did not intend to put on your site. If you don't want pictures of yourself in compromised positions, it's time to tell your friends to stop distributing damaging photos. Once taken, photos can take on lives of their own so beware of the phantom photo with the party lampshade. Your company may not want to hire the next manager with that reputation.

Let's not forget what comes along with freedom of speech, or in this case posting our innermost thoughts, comes responsibility. Of course, you can do it but you need to understand the consequences of your actions. You never know who is watching. It could be the new boss, the employer who is thinking about promoting you, your future spouse, your kids, or a detective in the local police department surfing the net looking for illegal activities. At least proceed with caution with your eyes wide open. Never be surprised at the potential effects. They can be far reaching.

When you are thinking about a controversial post, follow the 24 hour rule. That is, if you are emphatic about something you need to get off your chest, wait 24 hours. This is the same rule that applies to kids' sports. Coaches ask parents for a cooling off period. At least do that for yourself. You never know what the next day will bring. You may kiss and make up or realize that you were wrong. You've left the comfort zone of private communication and crossed over into the dimension of the cyber zone. Do yourself a favor and be thoughtful and responsible to yourself. Your reputation and career depends on it.