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Social Media Gone Awry

by
Dean Da Costa
Apr 12, 2012, 5:33 am ET

What does social media gone bad look like?

Simply put, it is when information derived from social media, rumor, and our connections are used as a sole or major reason for making a decision, without substantiating it.

I had a friend of mine who is very very good at his job. He also got good reviews, was a top performer, and according to everyone I know, is considered as good as it gets. He interviewed with a company, but not only did he not get the job, but he was told he was not the right fit for the company. I was curious what had happened, so I contacted someone I knew in the HR department at the company, to see what happened.

I came to find that someone checked out my friend’s Linkedin profile and noticed one of the companies my friend worked at in the past was a company he knew a lot of people who also had worked there. So he decided to contact a few to see what they knew. He contacted five. Gour of them came back great, but the one that did not said some pretty bad things. These things were shared with the hiring manager, and, well, there you go.

The interesting thing is all of the bad things that were said were wrong, and actually a lie. The person who said them was someone who got fired, and my friend was involved. The person got fired for stealing and falsifying information and my friend had to write a statement about what he knew. The statement was pretty incriminating.

This is an example of social media used wrong. Someone contacted someone, asked a question, and took the answers as gospel instead of thinking for themselves or asking the candidate for an explanation, or looking into it at all. Instead they took what was said as gospel, and lost out on a great candidate.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Charlene Burke

    Actually I’m more inclined to say that what went wrong was the internal decision making process. 4 out of 5 personal conversations were in favor of the candidate. Yet the HR rep went with the 1 negative. There is a problem with a decision making process that allows for personal views from an HR rep to override logic and reason.

  2. David Arnold

    Just as an aside, rather odd and legally problematic practice when an HR department shares why they didn’t hire a prospective employee with a third party.

  3. Darren Ledger

    Dean great point. Well written. Awareness of social media is critical. At the moment we are all in awe of how immense it is, how magical, how innovative. We are missing the downsides though, and there are lots.

    Everyone will probably frown and say, what are these guys talking about whilst tweeting something obscene about the service in their local coffee shop or their boss!

    Charlene raises an excellent point of course regarding the actuall selection process and decision. Surely you would verify these illicit peer references with other formal and professional references?

  4. Brian Kevin Johnston

    Thanks for sharing this story… Social Media EXPLOITS your strengths, and EXPLOITS your weaknesses…

  5. Allan Smith

    I agree with Charlene and David. I expected this to be a warning about what you put on publicly accessible social networks. Instead it highlights poor decision making skills and reinforces why you need people who know what they are doing when it comes to selecting talent. A top performer with great reviews and the whole deal is lost through one extremely opposing reference to four favorable? And then HR shares information about this person with a third party!

  6. Darren Ledger

    Spot on. Some rather grave practices here as outlined by Charlene and David. There is also the fact they compromised the candidates confidentiality by contacting people without his express permission.

    Check out this blog: http://wp.me/p2gWZv-27

  7. Paul Tseko

    Dean, this isn’t social media gone awry; social media had nothing to do with the decision. What the person SAID had to do with the decision. If the contact at the company wasn’t found via social media, he would have found them some other way.

    David, This an extremely common practice amongst HR folks. I am not saying it is right and the information in the wrong “ears” could cause problems but this is networking. For good or for bad, this happens. All the time.

  8. Dean Da Costa

    You all bring up excellent points; there are indeed two issues within this post. 1 the practices of the company and 2 their use of social media. The title “Social Media Gone Awry” is correct. However most of you are thinking about it from the perspective of the Social Media itself, not from the perspective of how it is used and the information gathered. Perhaps an even better title would have been “Social Media Usage Goes Awry”. However the point of the post still stands. You now have companies making it mandatory for you during an interview to log into your social media accounts so they can see your personnel info. Add that to what happened in this post and you can easily see how the use of social media has gone awry, and that we may be in a position to need specific federal guidelines on the use of social media. Some of you bring up that the only issue is that I was able to find out about it, however that is not the point at all, the point is the use of social media in this case boarders on illegal if in fact it is not illegal altogether. Either way the use of social media and the practices of this company were wrong. However again, if there was no social media this would not have happened. So in the end it is “Social Media Goes Awry” or more specifically the “Social Media Usage Goes Awry”.

  9. Mike Calvin

    If you take social media out of the picture, I expect the company would have been listed on the candidate’s resume and the same exposure is made.

    Social Media has made it easier to make connections, to network, to exchange information, and more, but ethics are choices that people make. The accountability is not with the tool, it is with those who wield it.

  10. Dean Da Costa

    Mike, that is a good point perhaps they would have still made the connection, perhaps not, to my knowledge the person who checked the LinkedIn profile did not have his resume, only his name, and of course knowing the position he was being looked for he knew his skill set. But perhaps he did have the resume. We do not know, what we do know for a fact is social media was the tool that started the whole thing. Also as I said in my last post perhaps a better title could have been “Social Media Usage Goes Awry”. However either way the point still stands, that social media if used wrong is a bad thing. I am not saying there is not more good than bad to social media. I am an avid user of it. All I am saying is the use of it can go awry and can be a bad thing. Perhaps the possible rules, guidelines and laws being talked about by the government will help with this. Perhaps not, but the point still is we cannot get so wrapped up in the good of social media we ignore the bad.

  11. Paul Tseko

    Mike, you nailed it!

    Dean, I think I know what you are trying to say but when you have to post two answers to explain yourself that are as long as the original post…

    In any event, it is very unfortunate this happened. I don’t know if your friend is an IT guy or not but if he is then this company is VERY stupid to let him get away given the lack of candidates for many openings. I think everybody would agree with that!

  12. Jerry Miller

    Agree with Mike. Social media was not the issue here. Well, maybe if the candidate had no LinkedIn profile at all the situation might not have happened. But at worst the social media only facilitated an uninformed decision by the hiring manager based on information that could have originated from other sources like the resume. It’s not like the company went to his Facebook page and made a decision not to hire him because he had racy pictures on his page.

  13. Dean Da Costa

    Paul perhaps you are right, and I should have made it clearer. However I would think this part of my original post “This is an example of social media used wrong.” made it pretty clear the poinbt of the whole thing. What I found interesting was, that rather than seeing how social media led to this bad choice, most seemed more interested in how I found out, or that this information would have been discovered anyway, the key word here is “social”. The point is with the advent of social media there is more information both true and untrue available about everyone. However just because it is available does not mean it should be used, and if it is used it does not mean is should be used as a singular reason for making a hiring decision. The point was that the people making the decision chose to believe 1 bad thing and ignore all the good, that rather than investigate further they took as gospel 1 piece of info, and that the info used was discovered via Social Media. So the moral is like any other data point the things you find out from “Social Media” should not be used as a singular reason for making a decision. It should be used as a singular data point, and perhaps seven further investigated, and then put together with all the other data points. Social Media is a powerful tool, that harbors the ability to be used for good and bad and it is up to us to determine how we use it, at least until the government passes rules, laws, and guidelines. That is the point of all this. In this case it was used for bad.

    Side not my friend got a better job at a better company.

  14. Keith Halperin

    @ Allan: “…you need people who know what they are doing when it comes to selecting talent.” Good luck there!

    @ Everybody: How different is this than if the manager did a back-door reference on the candidate and found out the same information through a phone call or over a cup of coffee?
    What do you think the candidate should do about this?

    Cheers,

    Keith “*Ain’t No Reason to be Sad and Blue…Everybody Must Get Screwed” Halperin

    * With apologies to Bob Dylan.

  15. Dean Da Costa

    Keith there is no difference except with the advent of Social media it is easier, and more is available. You do not even need to know anyone to find things out. It will be interesting if this become a norm, and word gets out that our social media presence is having a negative, effect on us, and causing all of this and then there is a backlash against social media. People stop having themselves on those sites. Or they become generic pointless profiles.

  16. Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Dean. Quite right. Consider if you will:
    A company using search engines, data-mining techniques, and internet-blocking filters, creates a special type of “digital dossier” of all the publicly (and ONLY publicly) accessible negative information on a given person, which can be identified by a name or any other identifying information, like biometric data from a picture. Think of it: you or I or anyone we know could quickly and easily dig up the dirt on anybody we wanted to, and they could do the same on us! The possibilities for mischief are incredible.

    As I said a few days ago:
    “You have the right to remain offline. If you give up the right to remain offline, anything you say, write, create, compose, or express in other ways can and will be used against you (accurately or not) by anyone or everyone for any or no reason for the rest of your life and beyond.”….

    Folks, you may think my scenario to be unlikely. I hope it is. At the same time, what prevents this from occurring? Technical problems? Maybe it’s too hard/expensive to do today (though I doubt that), but 6 mos, 1 yr, 3 yr? The law? What laws are there against compiling and distributing public information, except libel laws for inaccurate information? Public revulsion against finding out irrelevant negative information on people? What public revulsion? Lets go a bit further: let’s say that there are laws passed to prevent this sort of thing here, perhaps a “Freedom to be Forgotten Law” such as I have mentioned before. Assuming the information isn’t deleted, it will still be out there, just not as accessible. Do you think this might stop hostile governments or sophisticated criminal gangs from a chance to potentially blackmail millions of ordinary (or thousands of our most influential, rich, and powerful) people simultaneously? The mind boggles…

    :(

  17. Kelly Blokdijk, SPHR

    I’m actually in the this is NOT a “social media gone awry” camp. I’m familiar with several incidents where something quite similar occurred, yet SM was not a contributing factor at all.

    While this scenario highlights a very unfortunate sequence of events, the main issue of a person not getting hired due to external information that wasn’t objectively vetted or validated could have and probably would have happened either way.

    There was a particular hiring manager at a company I previously worked for who had a habit of performing their own “reference checks” before even interviewing someone. If they happened to know anyone who knew that person, worked at the same company or anything else, they put more weight on that opinion and didn’t care to consider possible bias, difference set of circumstances, etc.

    Another even more malicious “leader” took it upon himself (just for kicks) to call up other companies and tell them not to hire the person when ever he found out anyone on their team (past or present) was interviewing elsewhere.

    While I’m all for due diligence and using available resources to screen candidates, there needs to some balance and willingness to give someone a fair chance to speak for themselves to address any doubts, hearsay, rumors, gossip, etc.

    It seems all too convenient to blame these boundary breaches on SM, when that type of stuff has been happening and will continue to happen with or without SM access. The other side of this the possibility that there is an abundant amount of positive insight that can be leveraged from SM tools.

    By now, just like we all know the dangers of cigarettes, we are well aware of what goes on the internet, stays on the internet. The level of paranoia seems unjustified unless someone is up to no good and sharing that part of their life online. SM isn’t as magical as people are giving it credit for and it is only as invasive as we let it be…

    KB @TalentTalks

  18. Dean Da Costa

    Great posts guys, I think everyone is focusing on the title, which I garee is a little misleading, everyone is ignoring the key statement made in the last paragraph “This is an example of social media used wrong.”

  19. Dean Da Costa

    sorry for type doing this on a phone. I meant to say

    Great posts guys, I think everyone is focusing on the title, which I agree is a little misleading, everyone is ignoring the key statement made in the last paragraph “This is an example of social media used wrong.”

  20. When Social Media Backfires « asuccessfulcareer

    [...] damage to your career from those sources. However, I’ve just read an article called “What does social media gone bad look like?” The story the writer, Dean Da Costa, tells is enough to send innocent people running for [...]

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