Privacy concerns of new Timeline convinces Calgary writer to clean slate

thumb fbwipe erased-2

My public-opinion courtroom will soon be in session, and I will present my case as a job candidate.

As I prepare to look for work, human resources people Googling my name will serve as my career judges, juries and executioners.

The onus is on me to make a strong case that I am the one worthy of the position. If I do, I’ll be able to get that interview and go from there.

But incriminating cyber-evidence against me may have been found that I had completely forgotten about.

Exhibit A: My 2008 Facebook status update about waking up hung-over, mysteriously covered in pancake mix after a Halloween party.

Not the smartest thing to share in retrospect but I was a social media newbie who didn’t consider the seriousness of a communication staying there forever back then like I do now. Besides, those kinds of things were meant only for friends to see.

I question if I’m receiving a fair trial.

A colleague may have been right when she described my act as being “hyper-conscious,” but this is the sort of hypothetical scenario I don’t want to find myself in as I prepare for the professional workforce.

I bet I’m not the only soon-to-be university graduate who has such concerns; ones that may only grow larger with Facebook’s latest makeover.

Why Facebook Timeline bothers me

When Timeline was announced in the fall, Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook founder and CEO – described the new profile as “the story of your life.”

My issue with that is that there may be pages in our books that serve no purpose anymore and are better off torn out. People should be judged for who they are, not who they were.

Are our stream-of-consciousness musings and drunken photos that are several years old fair evidence for H.R. departments to use against you when reviewing job applications? It’s one debate in this modern era of living in digital glass houses.

What concerns me about Facebook Timeline is that the new interface spills out years-old contents of your attic — stuff you may not even remember having — onto your front lawn for everyone to see if you’re not careful with your privacy settings.

It seems almost every single keystroke and mouse click you have ever logged since you first got on Facebook is readily available to others to see by month and year.

Before Timeline, past activities would be well-buried enough that only people who would have some sort of unhealthy, stalker-like obsession with you would take the time to uncover.

We have no choice but to use Timeline eventually. Maybe some of us who would rather not have certain things in our online pasts uncovered may want to do some prep work.

I decided that I needed to prepare my account for Timeline by wiping a fair bit of it clean.

Exfoliating the evidence

It’s not that I’m covering up something awful that I’ve done; I’d just rather not risk limiting my career by leaving old status updates with the F-word in it or old unsafe-for-work jokes intended for only my friends to read.

 {acepolls 15}

Two things I’m guilty of doing are being on Facebook drunk and being a bit impulsive with it when I first started — having fun with people I haven’t seen in a long time. This was back in the days when I didn’t think of Friending colleagues for networking reasons.

Once you decide – or are forced to – make the switch to Timeline, you have a seven-day grace period to customize how you want it to look. In this period you can also go back into your history and decide if old Wall posts and the like should be viewable to the world, friends, only you or if those pesky posts should go altogether.

This process would take a very long time to do, so I looked elsewhere.

The free Android app I used, Exfoliate, is advertised to wipe information clean: posts, Likes, photos, you name it, in a fell swoop. Users can customize which sorts of activities they want to wipe out.

The app eats up a lot of data so be sure to have it connected on your home Wi-Fi network. Leave the phone plugged in too, as it can take up to several days to clean up.

User ratings suggest that the app does not work if Timeline has already been implemented, so you may want to act fast.

For most part, the app worked fine but I still had to wipe out some stuff from 2007 and 2008 manually.

Either way, I said so long to exhibit A, which might have come back to haunt me later in life.

Online reputations: Watch yours closely

My own actions are only a part of the larger issue of often needing to manage online reputations. We may have to work harder at it with the increased transparency that Facebook Timeline brings to the world. How many people consider it?

Earlier this year, Microsoft published research conducted across North America and Europe. Data suggests that while most adults surveyed have done something online to clean up online reputations, less than half of adults often think of long-term implications of what they say.

It also indicates that respondents underestimate how much photos can impact reputation as well. Six per cent of adults surveyed said they think photos are not a huge contributor to online profiles.

Good thing I erased exhibit B: A close-up of me looking half-asleep at a friend’s wedding reception.

I now think more long-term before I post, now that my amateur social media years are behind me and mostly wiped out.

Still, even with personal and professional lives intertwining in our connected knowledge economy, people should have a safe(r) place online where they can be themselves outside of work without (as) much fear of job retribution.

I don’t want to post like I’m some soulless stiff out of fear that an employer might read something in my personal, semi-public web space, getting some wrong idea about me.

It’s worrying that the choice some make to keep their accounts private (like me) may not matter as much. While Toronto-based labour lawyer Paul Cavaluzzo told The Canadian Press we don’t have to worry as much here in Canada, some employers now ask applicants for access to their private accounts.

I don’t like Timeline but I have to live with it. I could have just quit Facebook completely but I’m still not ready to abandon the platform.

flug timeline screenshot

For myself, it was a pain but I think cleaning up my account was a good measure, just Journalist Shane Flug is more mindful of what he posts on his Facebook now, as compared to five years ago.
Screen capture by: Shane Flug
in case. I’m accountable for my professional words (like articles and tweets), regardless of their age, but I think it’s fair to say that old personal mistakes online may be better off gone.

“2012 Shane” is a different person than “2007 Shane” and the former is the man I want to best represent my case in the courtroom of the workforce that I’m the right man for the job.

With fewer traces of “2007 Shane” out there, “2012 Shane” awaits the banging of the gavel with more peace of mind.

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