Job-hunters must beware digital footprint, conference told

Employers ‘asking candidates’ to show them their Facebook and Twitter profiles

Social media operators Facebook, Twitter and Instgram have tried to block images of a teenage girl engaged in a sex act with a male at the Eminem concert at the weekend. Employers are increasingly asking candidates to open their social media accounts for perusal at interview, a conference of the State’s Education and Training Boards has been told.

Employers are increasingly asking candidates to open their Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts at interview, a conference of the State’s Education and Training Boards has been told.

Bernadette John, a lecturer in digital professionalism at King’s College London, said while such practices may be a denial of a candidate’s human rights, many prospective employees did not know this and did not know how to “bat the request back” while still being considered for the job.

Ms John said employer research was even more advanced in parts of the UK, where the Department of Health has acknowledged it has computer applications which can research a candidate’s “digital footprint”. The applications can identify key “influencers” - those who initiate and lead conversations on social media - where the potential employee’s name is used.

She said this was particularly pertinent among medical students who tended to post comments about hospitals or government departments. Such students did not realise the “actions they are taking now are making themselves unemployable in the future”.


The inaugural conference of the Education and Training Boards of Ireland, successors to the Vocational Education Committees, was also warned that teachers too could find themselves easily compromised by what they post on Facebook or other social media sites. She said a conservative parent who works for a bank may not want to know the political views of a teacher who feels strongly about the behaviour of banks. Such a parent may use this as evidence of bias in any subsequent difficulty, she said.

She instanced a case reported by the BBC in the UK under the headline “Hull primary school teachers called parents inbred”. While she said the humour about families who wore “fake” clothes and shopped in working class supermarkets was meant to be private, and shared only among friends, some friends had several hundred other friends who accessed the material, and the teachers subsequently resigned.

But Ms John stressed a digital footprint could embarrass the user, even if the user was not posting and did not have social media profiles.

Ms John instanced an occasion where a student at one of her lectures “googled” the term “Bernadette Johns” and was presented with a list of pornographic sites. On Ms John’s computer, a similar search did not offer the pornographic sites, it “offered Saint Bernadette”, she laughed. But the student was embarrassed and was unable to explain why he had been offered different choices to Ms John.

“He is now clearing his cookies” she said, a reference to a technique which makes it more difficult for a computer to remember which sites a user has visited.

The Education and Training Boards in Ireland comprises 16 separate boards which replaced the VECs and Fas training centres on July 1, this year.

The inaugural congress is to be addressed later today by Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist