Tag Archives: social media

On Becoming a Technophobe

I find this post the height of irony; as a Mechanical Engineer I use technology in various forms daily – certainly my job doing design work and other analyses is made far, far easier with computers (though I still longingly remember my first “real” calculator, a HP 15C… ok, so I’m dating myself).  I have used the internet to meet people all over the world who, absent that technology, I’d have never known.  Without email my varied relatives (blood and in-laws) would not see my children as they are growing with any frequency.  I’m using Duolingo to learn Hebrew, and making more progress in the first few weeks than I ever did leading up to my Bar Mitzvah (enthusiasm for it helps!).  And in my consulting business, without technology and the internet, I would not have my current overseas client nor, potentially, some other not-close-to-me clients whom I am trying to cultivate.

So let me revisit my 2015 essay, The Threat of AI: The Slow Fade, (links and bolding in the original):

Implicit in the above quote is blind faith in the programmers’ ability to anticipate everything; remember, programmers program based – in part – on interviews of users. Could a programmer anticipate a bird ingestion into an engine, as happened in 2009 resulting in Captain Sullenberger managing to land the plane in the Hudson River – with no loss of life… and anticipate it to the degree of confidently programming a computer to handle every possible variation? Or the crash in Sioux City where a turbine blade fractured, cutting through the hydraulic lines and causing catastrophic system failures. On the Sioux City flight it was only the experience of the pilots, plus another pilot traveling as a passenger, who on-the-fly tried something they’d read about theoretically: using varying thrusts from the engines to steer and control the plane in an improvised control system to save over half the passengers.

Note my comment about situations that have not been anticipated and then read How much do you really want artificial intelligence running your life? (bolding added):

Replacing human sensory input with electro-mechanical devices is common enough that the possibility of malfunction of either is a real consideration.  Humans have the evolutionary advantage in that their brains have an innate ability to make distinctions in the real world.  A.I. systems require learning exercises to identify objects and situations already mastered by a six-month-old child.  The A.I. computer must build its own library of objects against which it will base future decisions as it navigates its decision tree based on sensor inputs.  What happens when a bug or ice fouls a sensor?  A.I. also lacks the adaptability and value-judgement skills possessed by humans to deal successfully with a situation for which it has no prior training or reference data in its decision-tree core.

I’ll let actor Jeff Goldblum say it:

 

If they can’t anticipate this; Non-Emergency Automated Braking:

Something strange – and dangerous – happened to me the other day while I was out test-driving a new Toyota Prius.

The car decided it was time to stop. In the middle of the road. For reasons known only to the emperor.

Or the software.

The car braked hard, too.

I can now describe what the dashboard of a Prius tastes like. Needs A1.

And I wasn’t able to countermand the car. Dead stop – no matter how hard I pressed down on the gas. The car wouldn’t budge for several seconds that felt much longer than that as I eyed the car in the rearview getting bigger and bigger as it got closer and closer.

Automated emergency braking is one of several technologies now commonly available (and often standard equipment) in new cars that pre-empt the driver’s decisions – which opens up a yuge can of legal worms.

Another one of these saaaaaaaaaaaaafety technologies is lane keep assist, which countersteers (using electric motors connected to the steering gear) when the car thinks the driver is veering out of his intended lane of travel.

What else can’t they anticipate?  I’ve been in multiple situations where I’ve had to suddenly swerve and/or brake (and sometimes floor it!), and not because something is in my lane, but – as an alert driver – I’ve seen and anticipated other drivers’ actions and proactively take action.  (The sudden-swerve scenario just happened to me after I saw another car suddenly swerve to avoid a bookshelf that had fallen onto the road.  I had to too.)

 

Smartphone Facehuggers

iphone facehugger

People are addicted to their smartphones; literally addicted, with increasingly-proven negative effects; This Fascinating New Ivy League Study Shows the ‘Clear Causal Link’ Between Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat and ‘Loneliness and Depression:

The participants could see the positive way that cutting back was helping them. Among their comments:

“Not comparing my life to the lives of others had a much stronger impact than I expected, and I felt a lot more positive about myself during those weeks.”

“It was easier than I thought to limit my usage. Afterwards I pretty much stopped using Snapchat because I realized it wasn’t something I missed.”

“I ended up using less and felt happier and like I could focus on school and not (be as) interested in what everyone is up to.”

This digital addiction has been commented on many times, and is especially noted not just for addiction, but making us crave constant approval of others.  And beyond that, there are the effects on children’s development:

Smartphones are killing teenagers’ memories, study says

Experts Are Warning That Children Can’t Properly Hold Pens Anymore

Related to the second item above, this video makes me tremble whenever I see toddlers baby-sat by the electronic drug (and it is a drug; I’ve read horror stories of kids reacting wildly and violently when denied their electronic fix – with my own children I’ve seen them forgo eating and drinking to stare at the flickering images and only become aware of screaming thirst and hunger when the screen time ends, often with protests and even tears):

Thank G-d my kids do sports almost every day.

 

Pavlov’s Smartphone

screenhunter_314-nov-24-10-15

So the other day I’m doing the dishes and my phone gives off a chime.  I am about to reach for a towel to dry my hands when I realize – with a WOW! moment – that I’ve become operant-conditioned to look at my phone when it makes a sound.  I finished the dishes and then looked; no messages, no emails, no nothing.  I started to pay attention: at least once a day my phone chimes for no reason I can discern.  Watching others, I often see people literally drop what they were doing, no matter what they were doing, to check their phones when it beeped / chimed / dinged.

Track it yourself.

 

Influencing

You cannot easily escape the debate these days about social media platforms filtering content, and doing so in a biased way to promote specific views.  AI can do that too; AI Social Media Could Totally Manipulate You:

But that’s not the only problem he has been thinking about. He has also done some thinking about “the highly effective, highly scalable manipulation of human behavior that AI enables, and its malicious use by corporations and governments.” For example, social media companies, which have been recording everything you do, can show you mainly content that promotes ideas that medium owner wants you to have. If you express approved views, you will get likes that could be from bots. If you deviate, you could be shown mainly negative responses “(maybe acquaintances, maybe strangers, maybe bots)” on the theory that you will shut up or change your mind. In the social bubble, you may believe that the medium owner’s preferred views are far more prevalent than they are.

People can, and should, have debates on various hot button topics, for it is through debate that we help burn away irrelevancies until we arrive at the truth, or at least as close to the truth as it is humanly possible to be.  But to do this we need information both for and against those views to avoid confirmation bias.  And while I, like most people, have political / ideological leanings, the idea that the main organs of information searching actively considered, let alone are involved in, silencing voices and squelching information with which whom they disagree – with the aim of nudging the population – should make you tremble if you value a vibrant and free society.

 

Orwell was an optimist

Smart devices are going to gain the capacity to monitor movement and location in your home… and transmit that back to home base.

Smart devices in the home often raise privacy concerns. The proposal here uses hidden sensors in walls and floors instead of cameras, with the device listening instead of watching, making it potentially less invasive but, at the same time, perhaps easier to hide. Another upside is that, compared to cameras, it is less easy to identify individuals, though it may be possible to train the system to recognize the gait of specific people which could have interesting security applications like identifying potential home intruders.

We’re seeing a growing body of research into non-optical means of observation and surveillance that can still, in some senses, see people through walls. And while there are clearly both innocent and useful applications for such technology, one can’t help feeling we’re tiptoeing towards a world of omnipresent surveillance – even in our own homes.

More about smart devices and privacy; Google Reveals Plans to Monitor Our Moods, Our Movements, and Our Children’s Behavior at Home:

“The language of these patents makes it clear that Google is acutely aware of the powers of inference it has already, even without cameras, by augmenting speakers to recognize the noises you make as you move around the house,” The Atlantic wrote. “The auditory inferences are startling: Google’s smart-home system can infer ‘if a household member is working’ from ‘an audio signature of keyboard clicking, a desk chair moving, and/or papers shuffling.’ Google can make inferences on your mood based on whether it hears raised voices or crying, on when you’re in the kitchen based on the sound of the fridge door opening, on your dental hygiene based on ‘the sounds and/or images of teeth brushing.'”

And we’ve all heard about China’s beyond-Orwellian Social Credit Score system, but here;

More, while this article focuses on electric vehicles in China:

“You’re learning a lot about people’s day-to-day activities and that becomes part of what I call ubiquitous surveillance, where pretty much everything that you do is being recorded and saved and potentially can be used in order to affect your life and your freedom,” said Michael Chertoff, who served as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush and recently wrote a book called “Exploding Data.”

American car makers have had recording “black boxes” in their cars for a while now.  Ostensibly for accident reconstruction, there’s no technological barrier to the data being expanded.  “Big Data” is big money… I feel my creeped-out-o-meter is approaching its limit, for example:

spy vacuum: Google and iRobot team up to better map your home

Smart Self-Cleaning Fridge Orders Food & Suggests Recipes

Possibly the worst; Google Is Developing Dossiers on Students Using Their Classroom Products, Disclosures Show:

Last year almost 20 percent of all K-12 students were required to use Google Chromebooks, and more than 30 million students, teachers, and administrators used Google’s G Suite for Education. The inexpensive laptop and powerful software have become a very cost-effective solution for schools to teach computer and other skills and to communicate with the students and parents. Kids can submit their homework, take tests. check grades, and collaborate with others using these Google products.

According to an Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) report, these Google products also provide an opportunity for Google, the schools, and other software makers to collect students’ personal data. Essentially the products are Trojan horses used by Google to boost their advertising business.

Marry all this together – big data from your home, your commute and everywhere else you go, a nascent cashless society, a push to driverless (i.e., not controlled by the driver) cars, and social media information-flow Newspeak… not to mention the seemingly common data breaches and facial recognition recognizing you out in public…  how soon before this dystopian scenario happens?

CALLER: Is this Tony’s Pizza?

FACEBOOK: No sir, it’s Facebook Pizza.

CALLER: I must have dialed a wrong number. Sorry.

FACEBOOK: No sir, Facebook bought Tony’s Pizza last month.

CALLER: OK. I would like to order a pizza.

FACEBOOK: Do you want your usual, sir?

CALLER:  My usual? You know me?

FACEBOOK: According to our caller ID data sheet, the last 12 times you called you ordered an extra-large pizza with three cheeses, sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms and meatballs on a thick crust.

CALLER: OK! That’s what I want …

FACEBOOK: May I suggest that this time you order a pizza with ricotta, arugula, sun-dried tomatoes and olives on a whole wheat gluten-free thin crust?

CALLER: What? I detest vegetables.

FACEBOOK: Your cholesterol is not good, sir.

CALLER: How the hell do you know?

FACEBOOK: Well, we cross-referenced your home phone number with your medical records. We have the result of your blood tests for the last 7 years.

CALLER: Okay, but I do not want your rotten vegetable pizza! I already take medication for my cholesterol.

FACEBOOK: Excuse me sir, but you have not taken your medication regularly. According to our database, you only purchased a box of 30 cholesterol tablets once, at Drug RX Network, 4 months ago.

CALLER: I bought more from another drugstore.

FACEBOOK: That doesn’t show on your credit card statement.

CALLER: I paid in cash.

FACEBOOK: But you did not withdraw enough cash according to your bank statement.

CALLER: I have other sources of cash.

FACEBOOK: That doesn’t show on your last tax return unless you bought them using an undeclared income source, which is against the law.

CALLER: WHAT THE HELL?

FACEBOOK: I’m sorry, sir, we use such information only with the sole intention of helping you.

CALLER: Enough already! I’m sick to death of Google, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and all the others. I’m going to an island without internet, cable TV, where there is no cell phone service and no one to watch me or spy on me.

FACEBOOK: I understand sir, but you need to renew your passport first.  It expired 6 weeks ago…

 

1984… or BRAVE NEW WORLD?

“A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.”

– Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

We buy this stuff voluntarily.  We put our innermost secrets out there deliberately and focus ever-more desperately on entertainment-entertainment-entertainment to distract us from reality.  We have Alexa, Echo, and who knows what – or who – else listening to our conversations, monitoring our web searches and potentially our movements in our own homes and everywhere else, compiling dossiers on our kids, and transmitting them to analysis centers designed to customize what we see to make us buy more… and that’s the benign outcome.

George Orwell’s 1984 dystopia features an all-powerful, all-knowing surveillance state that limits language and thought itself, controls the information flow, and presents a focus of a personalized enemy to distract the population.

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World has a population of a ruling elites using entertainment, sex, and drugs to keep the population docile and compliant.

They wrote warnings.  Who decided to use them as manuals?

 

© 2018, David Hunt PE

 

Social Media Vetting: Proposed Standards (Long)

Hiring managers and human resources people search the internet for indications about a candidate’s personality, character, opinions, and human failings – and then are shocked and horrified to discover candidates have personalities, characters, opinions, and human failings.

The buzz in recruiting these days is Social Media.  People are on it sharing information about themselves and their lives as a way to keep friends and family updated; bloggers opine on everything under the sun among other content they post – and tweeters tweet, well, lots.  Recruiters post jobs on it and look for potential candidates, and also use the information people put out for others to see as another tool to vet those potential candidates.  The advice given to job seekers by universal consensus is to avoid any picture or post that might be considered controversial; pictures of parties and drinking, as well as those of a potentially-prurient nature, are particularly mentioned among the verboten.

I recently saw a picture tweeted by a person so well-known in the Recruiting industry they write a column for a national magazine!  They and two others were at a party; alcohol was shown and all were having a good time.  So I asked a simple question: was this a picture that might be viewed negatively by a potential employer.  I believed it was a legitimate question considering the expertise of the person.  The picture and the tweet vanished; my question was answered by the action.

The New Puritanism*

PILGRIMMAN

I’ve written several essays about the use of Social Media (SM) to vet candidates during the hiring process (here, here, and here, with one more mentioned below).  Among myriad posts by others, such as ­Social Media in hiring – You can run but you can’t hide, is a universal caution to job seekers that what they post might rule them out a priori.  The phrase “use of social media to vet candidates” gets millions upon millions of google hits.

The practice of close scrutiny of social media profiles is creating such a terror of any exposure of anything adverse that it threatens to suppress the very utility of using such media to vet people as candidates censor themselves to avoid controversy.

In my last essay on the topic, posted on social-hire.com, I threw out the idea that some standards should be set when looking at a potential candidate’s social media presence.  To my surprise, nothing was forthcoming in the comments.  Thus, please indulge me in voicing some thoughts here.

Venue Matters

LinkedIn is the default location for people networking for work, and for a person’s professional on-line presence in general.  Therefore standards should be high; no drinking, no buddy arm-in-arm pictures, no unprofessional outfits, and so on.  Inappropriate pictures/content here should receive the highest level of concern.  I have seen pictures of both men and women whose appropriateness for LinkedIn I would question; in the case of one young woman to whom I am connected, I pointed this out and they changed their picture.

Likewise, a blog or twitter account devoted to building up one’s reputation as an expert in a field should also have a strictly professional picture and well-written, well-thought out posts (I try!); insights into personality and humor are fine, but again – are they reasonable?

By contrast, what people post on facebook and other locations should be cut a great deal of slack.  Similarly, a blog or twitter account devoted to a person’s personal interests, life, and thoughts should be cut similar slack.  These are, by definition, sites that are not directly related to a person’s professional image, and often are used to communicate with friends and family preferentially.  Especially as privacy settings and defaults can change at the provider’s whims, I believe it should be hard to hold things posted here against them unless they’re truly egregious.

And consider politics: letters to the editor and other posts are, by definition, taking a side on something.  With America split roughly 50-50 Left/Right, odds are good someone out there will be of the opposite view.  I have opined before that this country needs informed and involved citizens; so long as the arguments are well-written and calm, this should be a non-issue.  Indeed, I’d preferentially hire someone who wrote a lot, even if I disagreed, if their writing showed strong writing and argumentation skills.

Context Matters

If someone goes to a party, and posts pictures of themselves at said party drinking on facebook, their personal blog, or tweets them out … so what?  (Which means the picture I questioned earlier is, in my book, completely fine!)  If someone goes to the beach and posts pictures of themselves in a bikini, or Speedo… so what?  Isn’t that what one does and wears in that kind of situation?  I believe the absolute, basic question is simple: Given the circumstance / environment of the picture, is the behavior and dress appropriate for that situation?  If it is, move on.

Volition Matters

It is possible for a person to have their picture taken, especially in a social setting, and have that photo “tagged” by the person taking the picture.  The picture is not taken at their request, the tag is not added by their request and they might not even know it was done.  If they’re guilty of something, it’s of being out in public and not running and hiding from anyone with a camera.  For example, a networking party’s website has a picture of a person drinking, tagged with their name; that’s very different from a person posting that on their personal blog article about the party which, citing venue, is different than their using that picture for their LinkedIn profile.

Generation Matters

A networking colleague of mine commented about this post Why I Just Quit My Job at Apple; his comment was very astute:

There are no hard lines, but I would venture to say that the more elder readers here would be appalled that the writer cut and ran with no notice. The more recent grads would be appalled that he stayed as long as he did and left so quietly.

He is absolutely correct.  The younger one is, the more natural sharing information on social media is perceived.  Hiring managers and HR would do well to adapt to that new reality in considering the exposure people give themselves in their varied social media presences.  Just as older job seekers are expected to have developed some level of “tech savvy”, some level of adaptability needs to be inculcated in hiring managers to take into account the approximate generation of the candidate and, by extension, their sense of comfort in such sharing.  (For example, I’d be far less concerned about seeing a 20-something person hoisting a beer at a party with eyes, face, and posture showing some level of intoxication – it’s a party and they’re in their 20s, for crying out loud! – than I would seeing that same three-sheets-to-the-wind expression in a 50-something person… both from a maturity standpoint as well as thinking “You posted this publically?  Really?”)

Confirmation Matters

My own name is common.  Even names that are foreign (to the US, at least) are not necessarily uncommon as one might think.  If a search on google or bing turns up something of potential concern, it is incumbent to verify that said material originates from the job seeker in question – including asking the person about it.

Learning and History Matter

A questionable picture, done years ago where they agree “I was an idiot to be doing that” is far, far different than a person who posts such an action from last weekend’s bash.  After all – the internet is forever – and there are probably things we’ve all done and posted that we wish we could take back now that we’re more aware, and hopefully wiser.  Again, it is incumbent to ask the person about it if they are under serious consideration.

Beyond the Pale

Certain posts and pictures and other information do cross the line into the no-way-would-I-hire-them category.  Racism and bigotry, clearly, are absolutely beyond the pale and posts denigrating others in that fashion should be viewed with great concern and given great weight.  Calls for or threats of violence also fall into this category.  Overt drug use or discussion of one’s drug habits, or other illegal activities, are obvious reasons for rejection.  The possibilities are legion.

The top disqualifier often listed is sexually-related material.  Speaking personally, were I to interview someone who had posed in Playboy or Playgirl, meh, that’s pretty tame (though it would be points in their favor if they mentioned a magazine appearance up front – even tame, that’s not the kind of thing you want to hear about through the rumor mill, especially after they’re on board).  Likewise, a topless or nude picture taken at a topless or nude beach might indicate some lack of judgment… there might be some giggle factor among co-workers, but it wouldn’t overly concern me.  (A personal experience: at one employer one very attractive secretary was discovered to have had a topless picture in a magazine.  Once discovered, everyone quickly had a copy, or at least had seen the picture… but, speaking for myself, the novelty soon wore off and it didn’t even come to mind when I talked with her – and, no, I didn’t keep a copy!)

However, were a candidate found to have had their own porn website, or have starred in actual pornography – no.  They might be a fine <job title> but the nature of their activity would quickly become known… pictures and video snippets would be circulated and the gossip mill would run overtime; unlike the above example of one mild picture, I don’t think the novelty would fade.  (E.g., consider the in-the-news-now story of a female college student, at a big-name school, who is financing her education by being an adult film actress and whose real name is now known.  Is there a single reader who thinks that she will ever be able to get a professional job or, if given one, be able to function among colleagues who will – doubtless universally – have seen excerpts of her, ah, performances?)

Killing the Golden Goose

Left unchecked, the New Puritanism will slowly dry up the flow of information as people clamp down on anything controversial.  Without standards for what is fair game – in terms of venue, content, etc. – job seekers will eventually censor themselves into dead silence.  In order for social media to remain viable as a vetting tool for the long-term, boundaries and standards need to be set and widely communicated as industry-wide policies.

This does not excuse stupidity, however.  Some discretion and thought needs to be given to posts by job seekers – but without the crushing fear that any stray thought or picture, especially in places where the ability to control the content doesn’t exist, might be taken as one data point that ruins their candidacy for an otherwise good-fit opportunity.

Let Slip the Dogs of Discussion

business conversations

I now throw the discussion over to others:

  • How can “thought leaders” in the industry develop and disseminate standards and guidelines for job seekers to keep in mind as they live lives not only in physical space, but in the new and shifting virtual world of social media?
  • Likewise, how can these thought leaders also convey and enforce a sense of tolerance and adaptability on the part of hiring managers and corporate HR people to use as they rifle through the information available, especially information people voluntarily post?

­I apologize for the length of this; there was a lot to cover.  I look forward to hearing from you.

* My thanks to Neil Patrick; he asked if “New Puritanism” was my own invention.  It is.  So… if you decide to use it, I’d greatly appreciate a pingback or other credit for it.

­

­© 2014, David Hunt, PE

The Perils of Social Media (Long)

In my column Casting the First Stone I discussed the trend of checking people out on social media, e.g., LinkedIn, Twitter, let alone just using search engines with permutations of name, job titles, locations, etc.  (Repeating a recommendation for job seekers: if you’re concerned about your online presence, don’t just search for yourself, but recruit friends to do it for you as search engines customize your search results based on your individual past history.  Things can get filtered out and thus overlooked if you just do it on your own, or if everyone only uses only one search engine like google.  Diversify those searching and how they search.)

I also mentioned the fact that when you search for yourself, you will doubtless find links associated with people of similar, or even identical, names.  As I mentioned in that prior column, I found a political rant by a person of the same name local to me – not like “David Hunt” is an uncommon name! – and observed that an HR person looking for me might well conclude a priori that they had the correct David Hunt with a 50/50 Left/Right chance of being offended (LinkedIn shows three people named “David Hunt” within 50 miles of my zip code, but almost a score in the Greater Boston Area, and per other websites there are dozens local to me).

I recently stumbled, while surfing, onto a link to a rather… interesting post in a college newspaper.  Decorum prevents me from giving the link, but please be tolerant as I attempt to treat the fine line between relating enough to discuss it and too much information and thus becoming salacious… essentially, this young college woman writes a s*x advice column and discusses some personal experiences.  (Hopefully I’ve stayed on the right side of the line here.)  Obviously this young woman believed she has something interesting and noteworthy to say, and she said it.  And after I saw the title and – admittedly with a bit of perverse curiosity – clicked through to skim the article I did a mental facepalm and said “Oy!”.

Naturally, I had to jump on LinkedIn.  Typing in this person’s name and the school she attends, I found eight people, none of whom have pictures.  Any one could be the person in question.  The column does not identify what subject the student is studying so there’s no way to differentiate one from another, although there is her picture attached to the column itself.  (Please note: Both males and females are equally capable of putting controversial stuff on the internet.  I am using this particular column as an example only as it just came to my attention.)  Given that this involves one of the “big three” – Sex, Religion, or Politics – it’s particularly relevant.

Put yourself into the position of a hiring manager finding this tidbit on the internet about a potential employee, what would you think?  And even with eight possible people this could be, would you take the chance on any of them absent a way to differentiate one from another?  And if you were, in fact, holding this individual’s resume in your hand and understood it truly was their resume – perhaps because they came in for an interview and you could match picture to reality – would you be considering what adverse dynamics this person might introduce to your group if this information became generally known?

Where am I going with this?  Two places.

For job seekers:

Not only will what you post affect you, but others with the same name can also affect you.  It’s not enough to police your own social media posts and internet presence – and police them you must – you need to be aware of posts by people of the same name that might be considered objectionable.  You can’t just say, upon finding something negative, “Well, I didn’t post that!”  The Big Three are social media reputation death traps, and it doesn’t need to be you placing landmines in your own job search path, just someone with the same name.  Thus, be aware of what’s out there with your name attached.  If you can find it, a potential hiring manager could find it and assume it’s you, so there are several courses of action to be taken.

First, drive it down.  Tell your friends (include the link and title for information purposes only so they can recognize it; they shouldn’t actually click the link).  Have them, on a daily basis, click on the next 5+ links below it that appear innocuous.  Clicking on those links will drive the negative one downward.  Lather, rinse, repeat daily until the bad one is driven off the first few pages of a search and is now not likely to be seen – remember that company people are busy, and probably will not go past the first few pages of search results, especially when they notice things seem to be getting irrelevant.

Second, operate under the “no surprises” philosophy.  If there’s no way the link is going to vanish through your efforts, as I suspect this piece will not for quite some time, when you get to the interview consider proactively mentioning it in a discussion with HR and state that this is not you.  Other opinions may vary, but I think that a comment like this might work:

I understand that these days potential candidates are vetted by searching on the internet and on social media.  I take my reputation seriously and have checked myself out – and found a piece written about <subject> by a person who shares my name.  I want to assure you this is not me, so operating under the “no surprises” theory I wanted to proactively inform you of it so you were aware of it.

This applies to background checks as well.  While I understand that most people are not wont to run background checks on themselves, it might pay to do so.  Some years ago I had someone else’s felony conviction placed under my social security number in a private background database, about which I wrote here on my old blog.  Yes, it’s cleared up and has remained so to the best of my knowledge, but despite my efforts to monitor it, such mistakes can be made again.  Under Murphy’s Law, it would be my bad luck to have it reappear just as I’m in the process of being vetted for an offer.  Now, in discussions with HR, I proactively mention it – again, “no surprises”.

There is another corollary to material under your name.  In today’s extreme political climate, it is not beyond the pale to imagine someone placing false-flag posts to put you in a bad light if you’ve stood for something publically.  Again, there is nothing you can do to prevent someone from doing this, but forewarned is forearmed.  (And I’d opine that, once done, most people would not go and click on it multiple times to maintain a high position in search results – once posted I suspect they’d move onto the next target on their list… thus making such things amenable to being driven down into the internet weeds.)

Lastly, if it was something you posted in the heat of the moment, or an article like this written a while ago, can you contact the website administrator?  If yes, explain your job search situation and ask them to remove it.  You still may need to do the drive-down method but the link will be dead.  Also, be sure to craft a narrative about it and include how you’ve learned something from the experience if it comes up.

For hiring managers and HR:

First, please be aware that most names are not unique, even in a localized geographical area.  Unless a person is an immigrant with an incredibly unusual name – “unusual” in one person’s opinion may be hum-drum common for another – with other identifying attributes like profession, school, etc., it can be difficult to truly pin down a controversial item to one specific individual.  I would not have imagined the article writer’s name to be common, but with eight associated with this school alone, I was wrong.  (Side note: A person I knew at a former employer said they are the only person with their name in the US; I checked on LinkedIn.  They were right – and the only person on LinkedIn, a global site, with their name.  I can’t fathom how uncommon this actually is.)

Second, I’d like to mention the comments on the article.  Almost all were supportive of this woman’s experiences.  Societal norms change.  What an older hiring manager might find objectionable, one of this person’s generation might barely give this a thought especially if they, too, have similar thoughts or experiences.  Since many people define, in part, what is “normal” by their peers’ actions, some may truly not see the controversy in what they post.  Consider that many Millenials think nothing of posting intimate details of their lives for others to see.  Many have come of age with facebook, twitter, smart phones, etc.  Just as hiring managers expect candidates to be tech-savvy regardless of their age, older hiring managers should also grasp the culture of Millenials and make allowances.

Third, consider the material, and its age.  Is it truly just illicit, e.g., drunken or racy pictures?  When was it posted, and could the person have changed since then?  Remember, the internet is forever.  If it’s political, is it truly a rant, or merely the taking of a side in a well-stated argument.  I opine two things here:

  1. Our country needs involved people of all stripes.  In the “marketplace of ideas” a free and honest debate is necessary for our country.  We should not be afraid of people who have public opinions, particularly if they are reasoned and eloquent.
  2. A person who can communicate well in the political arena (absent bigotry, calls for violence, etc.) can doubtless do so on work topics.  Communication is a critical skill, and not easily taught.  A person who demonstrably has the ability to communicate effectively should be considered one step ahead.   (Which is one reason I write here – to show I can write.)

Lastly, people are people, i.e., imperfect beings.  They make mistakes, and do things without consideration of long-term consequences.  As I said in that prior column:

“Hiring managers and human resources people search the internet for indications about a candidate’s personality, character, and human failings – and then are shocked and horrified to discover candidates have personalities, characters, and human failings.”

The Undiscovered Country

Social media’s explosion onto the scene in recruitment means new ways to investigate and vet candidates, as well as new ways for people to do controversial or share outright stupid things publically.  Both sides of the table need to be aware of the pitfalls in this new landscape, and make allowances as its still-shifting terrain and limits are explored.

Tread carefully!

© 2013, David Hunt, PE

Casting the First Stone

In this day and age where “social media” dominates our lives, the conventional wisdom in the job search world is that candidates will be searched for – on google, bing, and any other search engine that the hiring manager or human resources person fancies.  They will also check people out on facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

 

Given the costs and consequences of a “bad hire” one certainly cannot fault them for doing so.  And in most of these places, the information is public and intentionally uploaded.  That picture of you chugging a beer funnel?  The snapshot of you in a isty-bitsy bikini?  The embarrassing story from a week ago you just had to share?  All are put there by the job seeker… maybe.  With photo tags, a person’s name can be attached to an embarrassing picture without their consent.

 

But as I have said repeatedly:

 

“Hiring managers and human resources people search the internet for indications about a candidate’s personality, character, and human failings – and then are shocked and horrified to discover candidates have personalities, characters, and human failings.”  And re-reading this, I’ll add that candidates that don’t have any social media trail are often considered equally suspect.

 

This judgment assumes that they’ve found the right person!   As a part of my own job search I have taken to searching for myself on google and bing using different permutations of my name, location, and title.  There are quite a few David Hunts, even just locally.  I just found a rather charged political comment by another “David Hunt” also from Nashua.  Whether or not I agree with it is immaterial – someone searching for me would likely assume they’ve got the right guy, with a 50-50 shot (Democrat / Republican) of taking offense at what was said… by the wrong guy.  (And I’ll add – this nation needs people to participate in public affairs regardless of affiliation.)

 

Thanks to a TED talk by Eli Pariser some time ago, I learned that what I search for is customized by filters; what I see is not necessarily what someone else will see.  Thus, I enlist several trusted friends to also do searches for me on these permutations and any others that come to mind.  This way I can better cover and find possibly embarrassing things that might be “out there”.

 

This is a critical thing for job seekers.  Don’t just rely on your own efforts to scan and clean your internet footprint.  Get others to help.  A suggested course of action: For anything related to you that you don’t want, have your friend click on the next five innocuous items to raise them in the ranks.  Lather, rinse, repeat on a daily basis.  Only by clicking on innocuous and irrelevant items can anything potentially damaging be driven downward in rankings by raising those items not damaging to you.  The rule of thumb is that if you can get that item down a few pages in the search results, it’ll be in the weeds and likely unseen – it’ll never be truly gone, of course.

 

Of course this isn’t permission to be stupid.  Exercise some judgment.  If you post pictures, consider the viewpoint of a potential employer – is this something they really should see?  If you blog, or comment on LinkedIn and elsewhere (and I do both), are you commenting intelligently – or ranting?  Now everyone’s definition of a rant will be different… I consider cynicism and sarcasm as just one more service I offer, and that is part of who I am – but even these are tools in my service to make a point, differ with someone else, etc.  But insults are right out, and doubly-so for anything smacking of bigotry, harassment of any type, etc.  And actual threats are, naturally, even beyond that.

 

But back to the use of such searching as a part of vetting a candidate.  How many hiring managers and human resources persons could withstand such scrutiny?  Remember the adage: the internet is forever.  People do stupid things, and many people put their stupid things out there for people to see.  A letter to the editor.  A comment on a website.  A dubious picture of any number of possible flavors?  Do those persons who are judging candidates live such sterile, hyper-controlled lives that their internet trail is unassailable?

 

My bet is no.  My bet is that most hiring managers and human resources people could not meet the standards to which they hold others.

 

In this case, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

 

© David Hunt, PE, 2013