It doesn't matter who or what you are - any online presence has to be considered carefully. Is it negative or is it positive? How can it be misconstrued and will it be negative in the future? The old saying "Switch on your brain before putting your mouth into gear" is very appropriate these days. More so than it ever used to be. Even announcing political affiliations can lead to great difficulties. This bus driver was illegally sacked for being in an unpopular political party.
It doesn't matter whether you have committed an egregious sin or not. Any employer can make up grounds and dismiss you. The key is not to give them any ammunition at all. Anything posted online has to be plain vanilla or it is likely to give somebody ammunition. If somebody announces they have just been to a country party where a freshly killed pig was roast on a spit for everyone to eat, this would have the following people up in arms:
- Members of religions that forbid the eating of pig-meat. Jews, Moslems and a few others.
- Animal rights people.
- Anti-gun people if the pig was shot.
- Anti-bloodsports people.
- Radical vegetarians/vegans that don't believe in eating meat.
- Various other groups that have been omitted.
Each and every action published online has to be considered for its possible ramifications. The ramifications might not be that obvious when the item is published and might only become apparent later. Thus, the 10 ways to avoid looking like an asshole online are:
- Publishing intimate images online. This should be avoided. Nobody needs to see a half-naked body or an image of somebody in bed. It sends the wrong message. Even an image of somebody in a passionate embrace sends the wrong message. To an employer it says "this person is promiscuous". After that the employer may fear lawsuits from employees that suffer unwanted approaches from that individual or might perhaps see the person as an easy conquest and a notch in his or her belt. Even posting pictures with a glass of wine in your hand can get you fired.
- Publishing an online location. Using geolocation services is not a good idea so don't do it. Everybody appears to use Facebook - including muggers, burglars, rapists, pedophiles. Once a location is published whether it be a home address or a present location, somebody can be found or found not to be home. An announcement that somebody is not home is an invitation to a burglar. It's also rather hard to say to somebody "Oh, I have a headache and I'm lying down" if one's geolocator (active on all smartphones that have the Facebook app installed) tells a different story. Best to play safe and NOT announce any geolocation for the whole world can see it when it is published.
- Publishing anything online under a personal name. A pen name is much preferable but that pen name should be kept very quiet. Was the author of the badly-written porn trilogy, 50 Shades of Grey really called EL James? No - her real name is something else. That's just a pen name. With a pornographic trilogy, how many employers would want her looking after children or working with vulnerable adults? The fear is there that she would be a predator. Anything political or which could be construed as political could be a reason to pass over an applicant too. Remember - employers use the internet to research applicants. Once your real name is out there - anonymity is gone forever.
- Videos - how embarrassing are those? Who in their right mind would put up anything but a very plain vanilla instructional video? The most exciting video on this blog is a humor skit about a camera filter that can see through my shirt (but amazingly not through a reflector I hold up in front of myself). Instructional videos on how to do things are fine - until they become controversial. A video on how to skin and prepare a possum for the cooking pot might have people looking askance at the individual if they applied for a job in an office or a retail outlet. Similarly, people seem dead set on putting up videos of their medical procedures online. This is not just bad taste but the question is that person going to start discussing their medical procedures in the office and causing problems with other staff. Just do a youtube search on - for example dentures - and there are hundreds of videos of people showing them off, taking them out etc. That's not to mention the more gruesome medical procedures where invasive elective and nonelective surgery is performed etc.
- General photographs and discussions of personal matters. Who really wants to see what somebody had for lunch. Who really needs to see that? By way of example - a sandwich. No explanation why it's there. Who on earth wants to see something so utterly banal? More than that, unless it's there with a really good explanation, there's no reason for it to be online. Don't put up ridiculous and frivolous images. These images could have somebody judged as being frivolous by somebody that means something for example an employer. Don't do it!
- Discussions of work. Work is work. Home is home. The two are entirely separate. Work is what you do to earn money so that you can enjoy your home life. Events at work might be frustrating and annoying but that's work and should be addressed during work time. Discussions online of work issues enter into a whole new kettle of fish. There's probably a clause in the contract that is entitled "use of social media" which specifically governs one's conduct regarding the company. This is one area where the first amendment will not protect people. In any case, even if the employer is in the wrong, it all has to go to court to prove it and get compensation which can take years. Better just to keep fingers off keyboards during periods of frustration.
- Posting personal opinions. This is an area that gets into a whole load of hot water. For exercising one's First Amendment rights - freedom of speech and freedom of the press, it's possible to get fired. Keep the internet impersonal. Fight ideas and not people. It's permitted to state that "group x seems to be dominated by nuts that get the rest of the group to do evil things so let's try to get people out of group x into group y". It's not a good idea to say "all group x members are evil and must be eliminated". Though the two things indicate reduction in the size of group x, one way is permissible and one is not. This is called tact and diplomacy. Online activities need tact and diplomacy. If somebody can't be tactful and diplomatic then they're better off not going online.
- Using LinkedIn. This is not something specifically that can get people fired. It can get them assigned to other duties and sidelined. Employees looking for work start LinkedIn accounts and when they're employed they delete them. This is a known cycle. If you need to look for work then just bypass LinkedIn. It's the kind of thing that lets people know you're looking for other positions. LinkedIn abuse can lead to being fired.
- Politics and religion, race, creed and culture, gender, sexuality or sexual orientation; All these things are very contentious topics. Any views expressed on those could earn the person expressing those views a quick trip to the boss's office followed by the imprint of a hobnail boot in that person's buttocks as they leave the office for the last time. Such views could equally well be blown out of all proportion by warped and twisted individuals to such an extent that the person who expressed their views could be invited to spend an all-expenses-paid holiday in a secure state residence alongside Bubba who will be their new best friend for the duration.
- Flame wars. When somebody says something that makes the blood rush and eyes turn red with rage or steam to come out of the ears, walk away. Don't send that angry retort. That merely exacerbates the flame war. Walk away and come back, 24 hours later. Don't fire off that angry retort. Instead respond "I'm sorry you feel like that" or "how can we reach an amicable agreement" or "would you care to explain further" or "My goodness. I didn't mean to upset you, how can we proceed from here". Throw the ball back into their court with an offer to receive it if they throw it back. Participating in a flame war just makes the participants look like idiots.