Looking through someone’s mail is unethical, so isn’t gaining access to someone’s private Facebook page the same deal?
Barring a nuclear holocaust or some type of Armageddon scenario, the Internet and all of its nuances probably aren’t going away. Personal and professional spheres are colliding like never before. It’s easier than ever for your boss to see what off-hours recreational activities you engage in because our entire lives are moving online.
Maybe I’m an idealist, but can’t we bring both our private and professional lives with us? Furthermore, is it even possible to portray separate online versions of yourself?
Temple faculty and alumni who work in social media have generally different opinions, but unanimously agree that online content is ultimately public.
Caleb Mezzy, a 2009 School of Tourism and Hospitality Management alumnus, currently works as a social media consultant for Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs, which hosts summer camps for children. He is also the founder of tweetstargame.com, which helps sports fans follow their favorite player’s Twitter activity.
Mezzy doesn’t believe that having separate online personas is viable.
“Absolutely not, you have one brand,” Mezzy said. “Not only is this not possible, but it’s not smart to do it, either.”
Mezzy added that an individual should seek to have a consistent personal online brand. He said it’s better to have “multiple platforms lifting one, than just one platform lifting different perceptions.”
He also contests that it is no great feat for an employer to gain access to a private Facebook page — a little cash could open doors.
“I [could hypothetically] message a ‘mutual friend’ offering him $100 for his email and password just to access his information and see his friend’s profile or picture,” he said. “Please tell me a college student who wouldn’t do that!”
Professor Steven L. Johnson, who teaches a course, “Social Media Innovation,” in Fox School of Business, takes a more neutral view.
When asked if it is possible to portray yourself differently across online social mediums, he summarized by saying that it is, but “only in a very limited way.”
Johnson, like Mezzy, said everything online is ultimately public and that if something is posted online, it could be seen by anyone.
“I think it is possible to have different aspects of your life to be more visible in different online settings, but ultimately it is impossible to keep multiple perspectives from being connected,” Johnson said.
Personally, I think that, as time passes, society will generally become more accepting and understanding of different mediums and how prospective and current employees choose to portray themselves.
If a person has a “public setting” on a particular social medium, then they should be held responsible for every letter and image they post. However, if someone has taken steps to make their presence private, then that should be respected.
Some students would appreciate an employer who understands this. Senior accounting and management and information systems major Ethan Do is one of those students.
“Some social networks like Facebook are more private than others,” Do said. “I would say that I’d prefer working for a company that didn’t try to get past private settings over one that did.”
Do, whose use of social media is limited to personal activity on Facebook, further states that the responsibility is still on the individual, rather than the company. He understands that discretion is required.
“If you have a picture of yourself doing something really dumb, you can’t really fault the company for denying you,” Do said. “They shouldn’t look at private pages, but I can’t fault them for it. Everything you put on the Internet can and will be seen by someone else.”
In past columns, I’ve told readers to use their heads and watch what they post on social media sites regardless of privacy settings. This is still my stance, but I feel as though there needs to be a degree of understanding that, as human beings, privacy is an indelible right.
We — students, professionals, people — should not have to incessantly worry about what we post online in social spheres that we have taken steps to make private, within reason.
However, as can be seen by different opinions, this is still very much an active and evolving topic.
My open message is this: Please understand and respect the difference between public and private online presences.
For now though, exercise extra caution when participating in any online network because, to adapt a quote from W.P. Kinsella’s “Shoeless Joe”: “If you post it, they will come.”
John A. Dailey can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @johnnyalbertd.