How to whitewash your Facebook (Tim Arbabzadah)

London’s job market is now a fight between thousands of graduates. But if they want to get ahead, says Tim Arbabzadah, then they better clean up their online acts

NEW graduate Josh Pappenheim was finally ready for the world of coffee, water coolers and shined shoes. After completing his degree in politics and international relations, he started applying for a range of jobs. Then he remembered an irreverent blog taking a look at popular music that he had started in university. He describes it as “lots of swearing and use of the word ‘swag'”.

Josh had applied for a job with a marketing company. He had been told by a recruiter that with his qualifications and work experience he had a great chance of getting an interview. “Days went by with no response, so I got back in touch, only to be told that they’d read my blog and ‘didn’t think I’d be suitable for the position’,” he says.

As you get older and more sensible, you may start to worry about your digital footprint. Everything you’ve ever said on social media is out there somewhere just waiting to be found.

In your carefree student days your only worry is that someone will cringe when they discover your old Facebook pictures. However, in the working world you may live to regret those old photos, a simple blog post or a clumsy tweet.

Last month, The Apprentice runnerup Luisa Zissman found her old Facebook pictures showing her scantily clad and kissing a girl on a night out splashed across the tabloids. After all, a potential employer now needs only to conduct a quick Google search to find out more about you, and that can (especially in the case of Zissman) be quite revealing.

A London university graduate who does not wish to be named recently found himself regretting his contributions to the student newspaper, including a review of a porn film. “I thought, ‘Oh God, I’ve let my guard down’.” He took his name off all the articles and changed his Twitter handle with privacy settings set to maximum — although this didn’t fully whitewash his dubious past online behaviour. “I noticed a while ago that a Hitler parody video I made a while ago came up on Google,” he says.

His next plan is to delete his current Facebook account and open a fresh one because there’s “just too much to delete” on his old account.

Indeed, deleting unsavoury things from websites can be tricky. If you’re the website administrator, it’s possible. But if you don’t run the website and the administrator refuses to remove the information you’ve requested, you may even have to resort to a court order for it to be deleted.

Most people manage their online presence by simply detagging incriminating photos, making their profiles private and asking newspapers if they can remain anonymous or have their name taken off old articles. But even this may not be enough: posts in Facebook groups are searchable on the internet, even if your profile is set to “private”.

A survey last year by global PR network Eurocom Worldwide and the UK PR firm Six Degrees Group found that one in five technology executives said they had rejected a candidate based on their social media profile. Eurocom Worldwide had previously found that nearly 40 per cent of companies who replied had checked applicant’s social media profiles. A survey this year by On Device Research found that one in 10 people had been rejected from a job in all sectors because of their social media profiles.

Jennifer Janson, managing director of Six Degrees, says the findings are very important. “I know it might be a cliché but what people say online will stay online,” she says. Janson believes we should start educating children as young as 10 about the implications of what they say online. “Very few children are taught about the longer-term implications of what they say or do,” she adds.

The research suggests that graduate Josh Pappenheim isn’t alone in his rejection. Luckily for him, he wasn’t all that keen on the job anyway. But for Matt Roberts the story is slightly different.

He applied for a job he knew he was very well suited to but was rejected without an interview. The next day, after googling himself, he quickly realised that his first internet result was a sweary blog, followed by his Twitter and Facebook profiles, both of which displayed language and activity that certainly wouldn’t make him appealing to future employers.

Since then he has been quite conscious of how profiles appear online and as a result uses an avatar picture and non-identifiable username on all social media accounts.

Such extreme action, however, isn’t always needed. Some people simply lock their Twitter profile so that only followers can see their tweets during the application process.

Although even this may not be enough to protect you. One graduate told me she had been asked to submit her Facebook url by a prospective employer.

FIVE STEPS to clean up your online act:

1. Think before you type and use the billboard test. Employers are put off by bullying and rude behaviour so if you wouldn’t be happy for it to be on a billboard, don’t do it.

• 2. Track those picture tags. Set it so that you are able to view photos of yourself before they are published on sites such as Facebook. You can’t stop other people posting photos of you but you can prevent yourself from being tagged in them.

• 3. Move things off your name if you’re worried about them and use an alias on social networks instead. Google yourself to find any old forum posts you may have forgotten about. Be wary that one source can easily be linked to another.

• 4. Use social media to your advantage by engaging with the company’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Jennifer Janson says: “It’s a great way to demonstrate your grasp of the digital world, and the fact that you understand the importance of online reputation.”

• 5. Be wary when posting on any website and remember that you may not control it. If you want something you’ve said deleted you’ll have to ask the admin people.


* Originally published on The Evening Standard, on July, 2013, titled “How to whitewash your Facebook”, authored by Tim Arbabzadah.

Content gathered and compiled from online and offline media by Hornaffairs staff based on relevance and interest to the Horn of Africa.

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