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When things come back to haunt you..

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“According to a 2005 survey of 102 executive recruiters by ExecuNet, an executive job-search and networking organization, 75% of recruiters use search engines to uncover information about candidates, and 26% of recruiters have eliminated candidates because of information found online.” – College Journal

I don’t think I’m the only one that finds the above quote a little disturbing, especially as it’s not sensationalism either. On my previous website, Spode’s Abode, I was surprised to find out that two forum members were asked about their involvement in the site during job interviews. Luckily these happened to be fairly conscientious forum posters and nothing bad came of it. In fact, bringing the interview around to the topic of their love for computer hardware probably did them some favours.

But there are still alarm bells that ring in my mind, where unlike the above situation I instead picture a scene similar to the Matrix where agent Smith is interrogating Mr Anderson about his online persona of "Neo", with a less than legal background.

One of the biggest problems with the Internet is that it's given everyone a voice, and not everybody was designed to have one. A considerable number of people don't really think about the impact of this voice and write whatever comes into their head without thought for the consequences and often with very little respect for those around them.

Forums are one of the best aspects of the Internet and a great resource of information, but at the same time unless looked after and nurtured can be a complete mess of idiocy.

It's very easy to write a post and click submit. It's a lot harder (on most forums by default almost impossible) to change your mind about it in a few months time. In fact, I had a recent request from a user who wanted his posts removed as he was suffering from depression at the time and didn't want his posts being discovered. Naturally I honoured the request, but not everyone can be so lucky. If you actually do a Google search, you'll be surprised how often forum topics come up – especially when trouble shooting problems (I probably read more forum posts when I’m having a Linux issue than I do articles). On my forums, we had more traffic coming through Google than was being generated by the forum posters themselves. This gives it a bit of a goldfish bowl effect, a small community of people being watched by everyone.

Not everyone is aware that this is the case, but doesn't the fact that thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people are reading your forum posts worry you a little? When you are in a close community, you feel very much at home and will tend to admit to things you probably shouldn’t (I’ve seen many a forum topic about illegal drug use – not a wise idea to publicise). Think twice, as you never know who will be reading it. I myself was very surprised to discover that my own brother was reading almost every post on our forums, without contributing at all. He saw it almost as a soap opera, without ever having the need to take part.

So instead of thinking of your forum post as an irrelevant IM conversation, take a little care. Check your spelling, back up your claims and don't discuss anything you wouldn't disclose to a potential employer. Generally speaking, I tend to avoid any topics on religion and politics. These are better saved for the final hours of a party, when you’re all too drunk too remember and philosophical conversations seem like a good idea.

Posting ethics aside, this marks a new era for privacy. It has always been a case of “what you do in your free time is your own business”, but more and more of what people do is affecting their jobs – like the school child who was suspended for discussing his alleged mistreatment on his blog site. With the Internet making it a lot easier to find information than say quizzing the locals, are we going to see a lot more situations like this?

Warnings aside, there are plenty of forum users that know full well what they are writing and quite frankly, if they are stupid enough to put such information online – they deserve to miss out on a job opportunity. Amen to nick names!

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