GDPR, Digital Skeletons and Online Closets

Social Media

Mike Trollope

Could a digital skeleton in your online closet be blocking you from your ideal job? If so, it might be time to turn to GDPR.

As the dust from the implementation of GDPR settles, organisations are still busy rethinking the way they approach their marketing. One topic that’s received less coverage, however, is the benefits – beyond those pertaining to general privacy – the new legislation will bring to individuals. Particularly those who may have been - how shall I put this? - a little less than circumspect in their past.

Last year, I explored some of the ways in which building a personal network and brand through the use of social media could help boost your career. But it’s important to remember that the power of social media isn’t always positive. In fact, unless you’re careful, it could even jeopardise your chances.

Think of YouTube vlogger Jack Maynard, taken off I’m a Celebrity after the media published racist and homophobic tweets he’d made when he was 16, or the similar case of Sheffield Hallam MP Jared O'Mara. Most teenagers are unlikely to consider how far into the future the consequences of a late-night tweet or post might reach but, as more and more people who’ve played out their lives on social media enter the workforce, these scenarios are likely to be replicated time and time again – and not only amongst the famous.

Although I suspect most of us have something in our past we’d prefer to forget, for those of us who grew up before social media, such incidents were known only by our friends and brought up at the occasional reunion. Now, our words and actions can follow us around for the rest of our lives and be uncovered by anyone with even a passing acquaintance with Google.

According to a survey by CareerBuilder, for example, 70% of employers routinely check candidates’ social media presence as part of their screening process. Although most (61%) are looking for information that supports candidates’ qualifications for the job and a further 50% are checking that they have a professional online persona at all, 24% admit they’re looking for a reason not to hire someone – with more than half (54%) saying that content on social media was successful in this respect.

But if these statistics lead you to consider locking down or deleting your social media accounts altogether, think again: 41% of hiring managers also say they’re less likely to interview candidates for whom they’re unable to find a social media presence, or if their connection requests are denied.

Clearly, the answer lies in managing your online presence.

Always think before you post

Start by remembering that anything you post online could be seen by anyone. As a rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t be happy for a potential employer to see something you probably shouldn’t be posting it in the first place. And that doesn’t just apply to what you say, but how you say it – in other words the language you use, the quality of your writing, and the time you post. (Yes – potential employers will notice if you’re active on social media during core business hours!)

According to the same CareerBuilder survey, some of the main reasons hiring managers reject candidates based on their social media presence are:

- provocative or inappropriate images, videos or information (39%)

- information about alcohol or drug use (38%)

- discriminatory comments about race, gender or religion (32%)

- bad-mouthing colleagues or previous employers (30%)

- an unprofessional screen name (22%).

That’s why, if you’re applying for a new job, some detailed Google analysis of your name is a good place to start. In short, you need to scour your online history to check for any digital skeletons in your social media closet: those heated political (or personal) arguments, gentle jibing from friends about your university antics and drunken photographs all need to go.

Help is now at hand

This is where Article 17 of GDPR, the Right to Erasure – or the ‘right to be forgotten’ – comes in. If there’s anything you can’t delete yourself, the owner of the relevant media now has a legal obligation to comply with your request for them to delete it for you. In fact, unless your request clashes with certain excluding criteria such as public interest (not the case for most of us), the ruling extends to any information that appears in search results of your full name – and the penalties for non-compliance are high.

Prevention, though, is always better than cure. Which is why protecting our professional selves from our online selves lies in exercising digital self-awareness at all times, even when we’re ‘off duty’.

Don’t forget GDPR also means we’ve needed to update all our contact lists. Make sure you don’t miss any of our news by following us on LinkedIn and Twitter or signing up to our newsletter now.