Q: I have always been active on Facebook and know people who've posted crazy stuff that has come back to hurt them. I know of a girl who went out with co-workers and got super drunk at a bar after work. Someone in the group took photos and posted one of doing some obscene things publicly. People at work identified her, showed it around the office, and she got fired.
I also know Facebook is a great way to connect with people you'd like to meet, and that you can create any kind of image you want by your postings. I like having things public so people can see who I am. My question is, how do we know the line between what's fun and what's borderline inappropriate. And if we want to be wild for a night, how would we stop someone from taking a pic of it and posting it?
I know employers check people on Facebook before hiring them, but my friends and I don't want companies to be controlling our behavior when we are out to have fun.
A: Clinical psychologist Dr. Suzana E. Flores spent three years interviewing social media users internationally to discover the psychological effect of prolonged social media use. Regardless of using public or privacy settings, Dr. Flores advises, "If you are comfortable announcing something using a megaphone at your favorite hangout, or behaving wildly in a crowded, public place, then feel free to post it. However, if you have any apprehension about what you're saying or doing, then don't." Dr. Flores' book, "Facehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives," won't tell you to get off of social media. Rather, she says, "It's a call for us to become aware of how prolonged use of social media changes us. It alters our views on privacy, validation, and self-expression. We have a personal responsibility to treat ourselves with respect, and we have a social responsibility to treat others the same way. When we can behave using this mindset, then Facebook becomes a powerful tool for positive change."
In her studies, Dr. Flores found that 70 percent of Facebook users regularly followed their ex's activities, and sometimes befriended their ex's new partners. On the extreme side, some created fake profiles to maneuver their way back into their ex's lives after they've been blocked. She warns, "Ultimately, if you're still looking at your ex's wall, you're not making progress toward a brighter future without them."
When you consider the results of the many negative activities people have engaged in on Facebook, you can understand why employers want to look into a potential candidate's behavior. If emotions take that person into extreme behaviors, no one can guarantee that person will remain in control at work. Any vindictive feelings can easily be released on Facebook, and the line between online and workplace behavior can too easily be crossed.
Dr. Flores states, "Inviting people we hardly know to be our 'friends' is admittedly a bit odd. Typically, we don't invite complete strangers into our real-life world." She suggests, "Perhaps we feel safer interacting with people through a computer."
This safety aspect is similar to employees preferring to email or text messages to speaking directly to other employees to save the sender from a potentially awkward face-to-face situation of having to impart criticism or disfavor. Though quicker, it's less personal may contribute to an increase in the discomfort of a face-to-face exchange.
Facebook can be used to promote awareness of positive organizations and messages, and gives individuals incredible potential to do good. If you feel restricted by worries about your personal activities being exposed, perhaps the public is better off by those activities never taking place.
Email your questions to workplace expert Lindsey Novak at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @TheLindseyNovak. To find out more about Lindsey Novak and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.