Beyond the silly or cryptic email names and “handles” on forums and the like, there seems to be a lot of people who believe that who they are in social media like Facebook should have no bearing on their daily lives as teachers, or interns, or businessmen. The issues we face in technology today are of integrity, privacy, and of who we really are.
The article that got me started on this topic is one I read at youtern.com, where the “saavy intern” provided an infographic about how employers use social media to chose – and reject – their future employees. The telling statistic is the biggest one – approximately 69% of employers have rejected an applicant because of something they have posted online. Conversely, 68% of employers hired someone because of what they saw online in social media. And the biggest social media site used by employers to judge their applicants? Facebook, of course.
|Click on the thumbnail to see the infographic.|
Immediately you might think that the moral of this story is that you need to be very careful of what you post online. I think that goes without saying. A lot of people lament the fact that there seems to be no privacy anymore. Senators can’t even sext their mistresses without having it plastered all over the internet – what is the world coming to?!
Now if that sounds a bit sarcastic, well, it is meant to. I think that the real question isn’t whether or not you should be posting certain things on Facebook, it’s really whether or not you should be doing those things at all.
Let’s be honest – I think that a lot of people want to be seen as two different people. Monday through Friday, from 8:00am to 5:00pm, they want to be seen as hard-working people of integrity: A good student, a good employee, that sort of thing. But then they also want to be seen as a crazy clubber, a hardcore partier, or someone who can really let loose and go crazy. They want to go out Friday or Saturday night a drink and forget their responsibilities. And somehow people think that these two sides of their lives can coexist and never “bleed” into each other. But this isn’t true.
The truth of the matter is that true integrity is something that is at the core of who we are. It is something that either permeates every part of are being, or else it is a lie. When we see major leaders fail and come tumbling down because they had an affair, or because they embezzled money from their company, we need to understand that this ultimate failure is most likely the result of smaller choices that they made along the way. It was a process. Somewhere in the past the chose to compromise their integrity. The waffled out on what was a small ethical decision. But they kept that decision hidden from everyone, but as those compromises kept getting bigger and bigger, eventually the lie of who they had become was impossible to hide.
Really, a great example of this is Elliot Spitzer. I have a lot of respect for him, now that he has lost just about everything. And I have that respect because of one thing I heard him say: He said something along the lines of, “People say that other people brought me down, took me out. But that’s wrong. I brought myself down.” Now I’m paraphrasing the actual quote, so I know that it’s not word for word. But the truth of that statement is very telling. And I have respect for him because he is taking the blame. As someone whose entire campaign was run on the idea of being above corruption, of having integrity, for him to be paying for high-price prostitutes and breaking he law like he did is outrageous. And while I don’t know the roadmap of decisions that led him to that eventual path, I know the first one was probably very small.
Anyway, my point is this: Yes, we need to be very careful about how we portray ourselves in the digital age. It can win or lose us a job. It can win or lose us a spouse. It can make or destroy a career. I’ve seen my share of some of those pictures and posts – I have a lot of my old high school students who I am “friends” with on Facebook. Overall I am usually very pleased with the ability to keep up with their lives. Several of them are working on awesome projects, or in awesome jobs, and I get a lot of satisfaction seeing how successful they have become. Others however, post things that literally depress me. I hate to see when they post photographs or comments about their own life that are degrading and disparaging. I look at those posts and realize that if an employer comes to Facebook and sees them, that they’ll never get hired. And beyond that, I look at those posts and a see general lack of integrity. A disregard for the real value that can be found in life.
I think the wrong thing here would be for people to look at the statistics from the study I mentioned above and think, “Oh, yeah, I can’t post those crazy party pics anymore.” Because if that is the limit of the depth of our understanding of the issues here, then the true point has been lost. The point is that we should really understand that no matter what we do, someone is always watching. And that was always true, even before Facebook. Even before the Internet. The truth of the matter is that we can never do something and think that it will only affect us.
It will always affect someone someone else. Even if it only affects others because of the way those choices change and define us. Now that’s a hard concept to really understand, but it’s something we need to think about. This basically means that living a life of integrity means that we can’t just make decisions based upon the word, “I.” We can’t think that way, unless we’re in a small windowless hut in the middle of the wilderness for all of our lives. But as soon as we open the shades, or step out the door, the “I” must become less important than it is for many people.
Think about it this way: What would you think of an employer who posted a job looking for, “…a person who can portray themselves as someone who has integrity on the web. Real integrity not necessary.”
Or even better, can you imagine a person advertising on Match.com like this: “Wanted: A person who knows how to make him/herself look like a caring, responsible husband/wife online through social networking. Real love not necessary.” Wouldn’t that just be absolutely crazy?
Integrity is something that must run deeper than our online persona. The real lesson of the statistics from the study mentioned above is one that is no different than it has been for years: People win and lose jobs, careers, and a whole lot more, based up the integrity of their lives. The only difference today is that some people think they can split themselves into two personas – the digital and the actual. They think that because they’ve posted these “activities” online but not at work that they won’t have an affect on their daily lives. And as we have seen, time and time again, this is not true. And it’s not new. People have always struggled with being true and having integrity. The only difference now is that when technology is involved the access changes.
Let’s face it, the best and the worst thing about technology today is that it gives us so much more access to each other. That’s both an amazing and a terrible thing. I can go online and learn how to fix my neighbor’s car, or I can learn how to make a bomb. Think about it. Access equals freedom, but what we do with that freedom, and how we react to it, is what decides our integrity.
The call to action here is not to hide your personal lives better in social media. The call is to look at our lives and honestly think about whether or not we are living them with integrity. It’s a call that a lot of people are listening to… But a lot of people are not.
And let me also say this – I’m not saying that we need to be perfect. Not at all! I learned a long time ago that getting people’s respect, and living a life of integrity, never means being perfect. If I’m trying to convince everyone that I’m that good, I should know that no one is fooled. I speak about this from experience: I used to want so badly to be respected. I was very insecure. I went around trying to convince everyone that I was worthy of their respect because I was that talented, or that smart. But everyone knew that I was trying too hard. And they all knew I wasn’t perfect. It was when I stopped trying to perfect, and started trying to be more honest that I started to live a life of integrity. I stopped caring about what everyone thought of me, and started caring about what was the right thing to do. It was when I could honestly apologize for making mistakes and take responsibility for my actions that I gained people’s respect. When I just became the big dork that I really am was when I got real friends. In short, I started to live with honesty and integrity.
And when I stopped hiding, and started acting like who I really was, flaws and all, well, that was when I really became aware of the things that I needed to change in my life. I became aware that integrity means living a life that is true, faults and all. A life that is visible in its attempt to do the right thing. A life that is worried less about privacy and secrets, and more about the influence it (my life) has on those around me.
If you’re doing stuff that you wouldn’t want your family or your boss to see on Facebook, the question isn’t “are my privacy settings set high enough?” but rather, “should I be doing this at all?” That’s a life of integrity.