Social media security: protecting your privacy online

This is the first in a series of articles on how to protect your privacy online focusing on email and Facebook

You’re just about to graduate and start your job search in a time where people often share the most intimate details of their private lives on public forums that are easily searchable by new employers.

In some cases, employers may want to know you’re active on social media, if it applies to the job, while other recruiters may scour networking sites to pre-screen applicants to see if they present themselves ‘professionally’. There have even been reported cases of employers being so bold as to ask new hires to provide their Facebook passwords.

While most of the horror stories where employment and social media collide tend to come from the US, there is no harm in taking steps toward ensuring your privacy online. Flurries of privacy violations have caused some to swear off social media sites all together, but you don’t have to choose between never touching Facebook again and having a few details hidden from prying eyes. Being aware of privacy policy changes and being vigilant about the content you post will allow you to sleep soundly after you’ve sent off your first batch of job applications.

Step 1: Email

It seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how few people realise it: always create a separate email for professional use or take advantage of your university’s alumni email service.

Checking more than one email may sound like a headache but with email forwarding and multiple account access, it can be fairly easy. If you use Gmail, it’s as simple as creating a new account, setting up a forwarding system in your new account, and then going back to your main account and associating the accounts so you can send mail from your new professional email. While it may seem like a hassle, depending on how long you’ve used your personal email and what you’ve used it for, that alone can be enough for incriminating evidence, especially if you’ve had the same personal email for years.

At the end of the day, it’s much better if your potential employer googles "john.doe67@gmail.com" and finds nothing than if they google "raddoeboy@gmail.com" and find your personal email in the members list of "Hot Skateboarding Babez Weekly".

Step 2: Facebook

Facebook has the benefit of allowing you to control your privacy with almost every single post or make universal rules that apply to everything you do on the site. So, if your Facebook has been an open book, you still have the ability to close it. All you have to do is click the arrow in the corner of the page and head to "Privacy Settings".

Now, there are several things of which to be aware. Setting your profile to "Friends Only" does not mean that employers won’t be able to search and find you. It is worth noting that some of things you participate in may show up on your public profile, even if your profile is set to "Friends Only". So, say a potential employer looks you up on Facebook and can’t see your wall (and therefore won’t notice how often you play Words With Friends!) they may be able to see a public poll question you answered about how often you like to get wasted, because some of the activities you do will show up on your profile regardless.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide exactly what privacy level works for you. You could choose to have two separate accounts, one public and one private, or you could opt to go by a different name (both of which might get you in trouble with Facebook). Alternatively, you could make yourself unsearchable, restrict who can add you as a friend, make sure you have to approve all of your tags, and even sort your friends into groups. If you have to add employers or work-related people, consider adding them to a list and then, when posting anything you don’t want them to see, hit "Custom" for settings and type the group name in the "Hide this from" list.

Making yourself unsearchable should do the trick to keep employers’ prying eyes at bay. If you want to double check what’s viewable, make sure you have a username set up under Account Settings, sign out, and then go to your account. If your account is properly locked, it should say: "This content is currently unavailable".

Lola Olson is Social Media Manager for Find Invest Grow.

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