A timely wake-up call for the social media generation

Surveillance controversy shows there is no such thing as privacy when it comes to our online activities


While the internet has long been espoused as a tool of liberation and knowledge, an altogether bleaker view has emerged over the past few days, with revelations that the US government is using it as a monitoring and tracking device.

Whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked documents about the data-monitoring machinery of US secret intelligence agencies, sparking huge controversy around the world about privacy and liberty.

Snowden revealed the National Security Agency was involved in the worldwide monitoring of private users’ web traffic, as part of a US government surveillance programme called Prism, by tapping into the central servers of leading US internet companies, extracting audio and video conversations, e-mails, documents, photographs and connection logs.

While the level of access the NSA has to check users’ online activity may come as a surprise, the fact that potential employers regularly carry out online background checks shouldn’t. With the exception of Finland, where employers are not allowed to use information obtained from internet search engines when considering a job applicant, companies all over the world use the internet to learn things about job applicants that cannot be discerned from a CV.

Online reputation
For better or worse, that period in history where employers judged job applicants on their embellished CVs is now over. Today, the vast majority of people have two CVs which employers check out before hiring. The first is still the traditional one you write, edit and distribute, the second one is the sum of your online activities that are openly available through a quick search.

You don’t have to be a jobseeker to understand the importance of your online reputation. You may be an entrepreneur, a freelancer or a business which wants to improve their online image.

Maybe you have recently graduated from university and don’t want potential employers seeing some of the crazy antics you got up to as a student. Or maybe you now have a business and don’t want potential customers reading those old tweets where you complain about various shops or discuss such important life events as taking the cat to the vet.

CPL Recruitment director Peter Cosgrove says employers regularly use social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to look up people who have applied for jobs.

“Your CV is no longer a two-page word document. People also look at your online/social CV. Companies can pull together your online bio, presentations you’ve given, things you’ve posted online etc to create a living CV and this will only get easier as search becomes more powerful. Whether they should or not is another story but they do,” he says.

He advises people on the jobs market to “spring clean their digital image” before applying for jobs, which can be done using apps such as Exfoliate for Facebook.

“Search for yourself online and see what’s available, find out what your digital footprint says about you. Don’t just search for your name. Search for other things that are individual to you such as your phone number or email address.”

“Make sure your Facebook photo does not paint you in a negative light. It’s also a good idea to clean up old posts on Facebook or Twitter.”

Luckily, there is a way to delete those embarrassing status updates of yore with myriad of free apps and services available for social networking sites.

Throughout its lifespan, Facebook has made numerous changes and upgrades, the most recent being the addition of the Timeline feature. With it, many users found some of their embarrassing status updates dug up and neatly displayed for all to see.

The Exfoliate for Facebook app developers found removing content by hand was tedious and practically impossible. They created Exfoliate to remove any post, comment, like or photo, whether made by you or by others, older than a time you specify. It can also remove posts, comments, likes, and photos put there by users on their friends’ walls.

Similarly, Tweetdelete allows users to protect their privacy by automatically deleting posts older than a specified age from their Twitter feed. The app allows users to delete all their tweets at once (up to 3,200 tweets), and also helps make it easier to delete multiple tweets in one go.

Tweeticide and TweetEraser are other services to delete Tweets from Twitter. Both are simple web-based tools to delete selected tweets or tweets in bulk.

The Last Night Never Happened app helps users undo social media wrongs by deleting incriminating digital evidence from an evening you want to forget. It links to your Twitter and Facebook accounts, so that you can delete selected photos, posts, and tweets for a chosen number of hours.

Global sensation
But, as it warns, deletion is forever: “Should you choose to use Last Night Never Happened to delete your Facebook or Twitter posts, we will not be able to help you retrieve them. When we say ‘Last Night Never Happened’, we mean it.”

While this deletion may be forever, it is not always possible to completely remove certain things online, according to Cosgrove.

“There is very little you can do when you become a global sensation for doing something funny or bad. This only happens to a small minority of people, but is more difficult for people with an unusual or unique name.”

He cited the PwC employees who found themselves in hot water over emails rating the looks of their female colleagues. “When you Google them it comes up. There’s not a whole lot you can do to remove things from Google especially when they go viral.”

App help: From Exfoliate to Last Night Never Happened

Exfoliate for Facebook:This is an Android app which allows users to delete some or all content from Facebook prior to a specified date

Tweetdelete: This service automatically deletes all of a user’s tweets older than a specified age

Tweeticide: This is an iOS app which allows a user to delete all their tweets in one fell swoop

TweetEraser: This is a web-based tool to help users filter and delete bulk tweets

Last Night Never Happened:This is an iPhone and iPad app that deletes the previous night’s activity on Twitter and Facebook

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