We’ve known for a while now that employers are scanning the social media presence of would-be employees before making a job offer. More recently, we also learned that our very own credit worthiness could be impacted, not only by the content we put forth, but also by the knuckleheadedness of those to whom we are connected online. Alternative lenders, such as Lenddo, Kreditech and Kabbage, may track social media activities of you—and your friends—in determining whether you or your business are a worthy credit risk. So unless you decide to follow my personal path—Facebook abstinence (the only method proven scientifically effective in 100% of cases)—I hereby offer the only slightly less certain way to avoid being haunted in the future by your social media past: Don’t “say” stupid [stuff] online.
Consider this litmus test to be applied before liking, updating, tweeting, sharing, tumbling or pluss-ing:
Only share that which you would be happy to see appearing in BOLD CAPS on the front page of USA Today, the New York Times and your home town paper.
Even if we’ve been duped into believing that social media offered any level of privacy whatsoever, the reality is that it doesn’t. Its inherent design is to compound, to magnify and to extend the reach of whatever message we communicate, for better and worse. Privacy settings, if anything, obscure the fact that we are exposed.
It deserves mention that Facebook, contrary to some reports, is not the devil. Nor are they, or any other social media outlet, an altruistic venture. They all teeter on the fence between the seemingly opposed realms of Beneficial and Intrusive. Ironically, however, it is hard to imagine their offering much of a benefit were it not for their intrusion. It is our input that builds the algorithms in Facebook to direct us to the friends we seek and the artists, brands and personalities we follow. In the case of these unique lenders, it is individuals and businesses lacking sufficient credit history to receive loans through conventional means who are divulging their online activity to the alternative lenders who find parallels between social media activity and credit-worthiness. We’re not talking about major credit agencies, banks and insurance companies requiring our social media login information—yet.
Whether we are looking up old schoolmates on Facebook, scanning for trends on Twitter, building our virtual networks on LinkedIn or applying for a loan, it is up to us to determine what information in our possession is worthy of dissemination in these venues. While it seems that every third person we meet these days is a “Social Media Consultant,” the aforementioned litmus test for online activity won’t cost you an awkward lunch meeting and is simply based on applying the 2,400 year old Hippocratic Oath to ourselves—first, do no harm.
Whether we like it or not, we may need to consider protecting our social media footprint the way we protect our credit score, for the sake of our available credit, our employment and even our reputation with family, friends and colleagues. As Will Rogers said well before Al Gore invented the interwebs, “It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute.” The advent of social media has given us the opportunity to fast-track reputation building, but it has also shortened the journey to embarrassment and magnified every online misstep. You can’t delete your past, but you can delete your post. So unless you’re willing to see that post, tweet, status update or email making headline news, consider hitting delete instead of send.