My name is Bent and I’m currently an intern at JC Social Media during my first summer holidays of studying Business Management and Informatics at the University of Sheffield. You can follow me on Twitter here.
Fun fact: I actually got this internship over Twitter. That’s perhaps only half of the story, but the truth is that after hearing Jodie speak about her business in one of my modules I got curious and decided to tweet her, asking whether or not her company takes interns at all. Of course there was a proper application process that followed, but first contact was made using less than 140 characters.
When I first joined Facebook, I didn’t really use it much at all except for keeping in touch with everyone at school. As with most people, I have a couple of party photos on there, but have a look for yourself and I’m pretty sure that you wouldn’t find anything really inappropriate. It may surprise you that this is really not thanks to my privacy settings. To be completely honest, while writing this very sentence I had to log on to my profile to see what my settings were even like. Yet I have never really worried about what people might find on there.
“Why is that?”, you may ask. It’s because I don’t really allow myself to get into any compromising situations to begin with. The cynical among you (and actually myself, when I’m being overly critical with myself) might say that all this really means is that I lead a pretty boring life. I’d reply that what’s boring to you is of course highly subjective, but it certainly is true that I don’t go out much and I don’t get drunk a lot.
“So is this your great social media advice?”, you may further inquire, “just don’t have any fun and your Facebook profile will be a-okay?”.
Well, critical person I have just made up, this is of course not what I’m saying. I’ll get back to this whole point, but first let’s look at some realities. Employers look at your social media. But what they are looking for will also depend on what kind of people/company they are. That’s actually a point that is very important to keep in mind about this whole issue: yes, those companies that look at your social media presence, they’re actually humans. It is a bit hard to believe sometimes, but it’s true. And do you know who most humans like to work with? You can be pretty sure it’s other humans.
To put this into perspective, I am actually sometimes more worried that an employer looks at my Facebook profile and says something along the lines of “I don’t see this guy going out at all. Is he some sort of antisocial basement-dweller? Sure, it seems like he works well enough but I don’t want some gloomy vampire haunting my office, to the bin with this application!” Let’s switch it up a bit and talk about what probably concerns most parents regarding all this. Most of what I read on the issue of children and young adults and their social media presence usually zones in on the concern that children may be presenting themselves online in a manner that would later on seriously hamper their chances of getting their dream job.
Some of the (very valid) concerns have been neatly summarized in the little video below, and you can check out more on children and safety online here.
Personally, I fear that some parents may be going down the wrong route for entirely the right reasons (ie wanting “what’s best” for their children). To be fair, the following assumes that you (parent) want your child to later on have a job they like and fits them really well. If that’s not you, you might still find some useful advice here, but it will be the stuff I recommend parents generally shouldn’t do. What I think may come naturally to some parents is to tell their children to be mindful of what they put out on their social media profiles, maybe limit their online time or encourage them to put things on their that they think an employer would love to see. I think this implicitly says the following to your child:
“Why don’t you try and be this person that I’d really like you to be?”
“Just pretend to be like this online, it’s what’s expected of you.”
“Who you are online doesn’t have anything to do with who you really are.”
Personally, I don’t find these to be healthy messages. Your mileage may vary and I will admit that I’m not a strong believer in separating online life and the “real world”. While it is not my intention to force my beliefs on you, I’d still like to think about it this way: if you are okay with who your child is, and they are okay with it, why should they express themselves any differently online? Conversely, if your child starts behaving in a way online that you find alarming, maybe it’s time to address the real issues instead of just censoring what they put up.
I’d like to think that what I post online is an expression of the same person you would meet in the flesh if you were to run into me on the street. I am fully aware that there are some factors of online communication that influence our behaviour. You can’t easily take back anything you say, for example, since it’s likely being archived in some way as soon as you post it. But I’d like to believe that this would encourage you to be more honest. I mean, just imagine having to double check everything you say online with whether or not it fits the persona you’re putting up to impress others. It’s hard enough to consider how anything you normally say might be perceived.
Ultimately, it’s probably the best idea to encourage your child to be themselves, no matter where they are. Instead of thinking about elaborate methods to control who they are online, get back to the basics. Don’t be rude. Appreciate yourself and others for who they are. Be confident in what you love. I’d like to think that those are the things an employer who would be a good fit for your child would appreciate. I mean, if you’re rejected by someone because they don’t agree with what you truly believe in, or because they saw a picture of you and thought you were having too much fun at a party five years ago, would you really wanted to have worked for them in the first place?
At the end of the day, people will always make up their minds about you in some way, and I for one would rather be disliked for who I am than appreciated for who I’m pretending to be. After all, you can choose whether you want to see social media as a merciless panopticon or a place where you can connect with those who think you (or your child) are really, really awesome.
And what do you know, many of those people are looking to hire.