Tech Tuesday Question – Social media, perceived anonymity, and future employment

GREAT content on social media and the issue of whether or not anonymous apps really are anonymous! I am giving a presentation to 1,000 college students with an emphasis on what future employers will look for when looking at social media posts. I’m also looking for info on how to prove to them that what they believe they’re posting as anonymous really isn’t.

I found one of your posts to be especially helpful (Is that message private?)

If you have other posts or sites that would be helpful about this, I would love to see them. Thanks again, Adam. Great content!

— Kristin

This is one of those pressing questions, right? Adults feel the need to provide some fair warning that college life is not real life and what’s cool in college might actually be detrimental to the reason they are at college. Meanwhile, college students stare blankly at an adult who they think speaks another language about their social life. I really think this is more about extended adolescence than specifically social media, but I digress. 

With the popularity of so-called “anonymous” or “ephemeral” apps, it’s good to remind everyone from time to time that the only one who thinks these apps are private or anonymous are the users themselves. Snapchat isn’t anonymous. Nor is YikYak or Tinder or whatever.

A few ways they are not anonymous:

  1. Your account is linked to your device ID, your phone number, your email address, or something that you use to sign-on. That points back to you.
  2. The app recognizes your device beyond your username and login info, often times recognizing unique identifiers.
  3. Most apps use geolocation, logging your general location based on your ISP info OR using the GPS function in your phone to pinpoint your exact location every time you access the app.
  4. Your phones carrier is logging your usage. (Text, data, messaging, voice calls, etc.)
  5. You can mask your identity but your language is a unique identifier. The things you talk about, how you talk about them, your phraseology, the way you spell/misspell words, etc. All of these things point directly back to you.
  6. Images you share often have metadata in them that point directly back to your device, geolocation, etc. Save an image to your computer, open in  basic image viewing software, and voila.
  7. As soon as you take a photo/video with your phone, you’ve already lost control of that file. Many phones backup your images directly to the cloud automatically. Even if that’s later deleted, it’s more likely just not shown to you but still in your account for a period of time in case you want to “un-delete it.
  8. As soon as you send an image/message/video to another person, you’ve completely lost control of what happens to it. They can do whatever they want with it, their device may or may not store it automatically, on and on.

What does this have to do with employment?

This is a complicated question because every employer and every hiring process is somewhat different. Likewise, boundaries between what’s acceptable, what’s normal business practice, and what’s legal in the hiring process are somewhat blurred lines.

A couple of articles on the topic:

Common sense tells you that there’s a difference between what companies are allowed to do in screening candidates for a position and what they actually do. Someone hiring a person is putting their own reputation and their future with the company on the line, so they are wise to do whatever they can to make sure their candidates are right for the company.

A few things that an employer might want to know that aren’t on the resume:

  • Character qualities
  • Approximate age
  • Relationship status
  • Background
  • Hobbies, passions, attitude, and stuff like that

Different employers are going to use different techniques to figure that stuff out. Some will figure that out in an interview or pre-screening phone call. But it’s easy enough to look at public profiles of a candidate on social media.

Are most employers going to do a full-on investigation that might include seeing if they can find out what you did for Spring Break 2013? Probably not. But don’t be surprised that employers sniff around on your various profiles to see what kind of person you are.

Expect it. 

If you don’t have anything to hide than none of this matters.

But this might mean you have some cleaning up to do, as well.

Have a Tech Tuesday question for Adam? Submit your question on the sidebar of his blog.


By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

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