By School Resource Officer Amy Kingzett
Every year, the Discovery Middle School Library Media Specialist and I teach a digital citizenship class on ethical use of social media, a subject called Risky Online Relationships, to all of the 8th Graders at Discovery Middle School. The kids always bring up interesting class discussions, to say the least. Students were especially shocked to hear about how potential employers might eliminate a potential employee from their hiring list based on a person’s online social presence. Several students when as far to say that they felt it was a violation of their privacy to have companies look at their open online social media profiles.
I started asking around and researching company policies for hiring prospective employees. The overwhelming theme was that your online social media presence can have a very positive or negative effect on potential employment and educational opportunities. According to 2013 Forbes article, How Social Media Can Help (or Hurt) Your Job Search, by Jacquelyn Smith, at a minimum, approximately 2 in 5 companies look at your social media profiles to evaluate one’s “character and personality.” What they’re looking for is to see how the job seeker is portraying themselves online. Employers are seeking to find the answer to this question: Is it professional? They’re looking to see if the potential employee would be a good for the company and its culture, but they’re also looking to determine if there are potential concerns that would eliminate that employee before actually hiring them.
Smith’s article, Shannon Gausephol’s 2016 article, Don’t Let These Social Media Mistake Ruin Your Career, and J.T. Ripton’s 7 Social Media Mistakes That Could Damage Your Career all address how potential employees may be eliminated from a hiring list including, but not limited to, the following: provocative or inappropriate photos and information on a profile and evidence of any alcohol (even if it was legal for that person to possess it) or any drug use, posting online about lying to get out of work, and online bullying. Additional reasons why job offers were not given to potential employees included: poor communication skills and bad spelling, making discriminatory comments about other people, making negative comments about previous employers, and misrepresenting themselves and their qualifications that might be made apparent after checking social media. Many companies have policies in place to prevent employees from negatively impacting a company’s image and would possibly result in consequences.
Potential employers aren’t only looking for ways to eliminate a prospective employee, but they are also looking to hire someone for the professional image they might portray about themselves online. Articles researched suggested removing negative content from your social media accounts and add supporting documents to represent your personal skills and creativity, which might entice a company to hire you. It is stated in the 2014 article, The 7 Social Media Mistakes Most Likely to Cost You a Job, by Jacob Davidson, that employers might be checking your social media to determine things like, “professional experience, mutual connections, examples of previous work, and cultural fit.”
A local employer weighed in as well. Nadine Aljets, Senior Media Relations Specialist at Sanford Health Communications, states that “Sanford does use social media to identify and attract talent. Thus, I would highly recommend that job seekers consider the type and professionalism of information they share online.” She continued,
“We look for employees who connect with our values of courage, passion, resolve, advancement, and family.”
This information may not seem relevant to a school-aged child, but ask your child’s counselors, teachers, principals, or School Resource Officer how much time is invested working with online social media issues, such as the following: bullying, harassment, sexting, the sending or displaying of inappropriate photos online, etc. Kids have been hearing the warnings about these activities, but they don’t always make the connection to how these behaviors will affect them later on in life, let alone right now.
Similar to middle school and high school, colleges and universities have a Student Code of Conduct. MSUM and NDSU write in their student handbooks that any suspected violations of law or university policies may be submitted to police for investigation or other campus officials. Taking these thoughts a little farther, I researched the North Dakota State University’s policy regarding Student-Athletes and Social Networking Sites. NDSU has a provision in their policy that allows coaches the ability to have access to a student athlete’s social networking sites, if they request it. An excerpt taken from the NDSU Student-Athlete Code of Conduct Handbook (2016-2017) states: “Student-athletes may not post online any pictures, information or other content that might cause embarrassment to themselves, fellow student-athletes, teams coaches, the Athletics Department or the university (examples: obscene images or language, pictures at parties with alcohol, references to drugs or sex).” Additionally, the handbook also states: “Student-athletes may not post any content online that is unsportsmanlike, derogatory, demeaning or threatening toward any other individual or entity,” and additional examples are given.
The City of Fargo is currently drafting a policy to serve as guidance for current employees who might choose to post on social media. The guidance is aimed to assist the employee in determining if what they are about to post online is appropriate and helps them to understand that disciplinary action could be a possibility. The City of Fargo conducts thorough background checks on potential Police and Fire Department candidates. Throughout these investigations, a potential employee’s social media accounts are checked for content to determine if the potential employee displays conduct that would not be becoming of an employee in a capacity where integrity is of utmost importance.
Davidson says, “And remember, just because your social media postings haven’t hurt you yet, doesn’t mean they won’t.”
This topic was of interest to me, because of how involved I have had to become in online social media investigations at the middle school level. I know there is much more going on, than what is reported on the surface. Despite the legal consequences, I hope to help students and their families see the effects that their personal social media presence can have in the long run, in addition to right now.