People might be very surprised as to where their casual Facebook comments can end up. Here are some things to be aware of and what you can do to temper their effect.
If you have some extra time and would like a front seat to some major Facebook fails, check out lamebook.com. Some of the content can be pretty tasteless but if anything can drive home the point of "Facebook post" remorse, it's this site.
I searched under "workplace" and found an example of a guy who was griping about his boss and jokingly said he'd like to "stab her in the jugular." This was followed soon by his next post, which was, "Does anyone know of any job openings?" Apparently someone told his boss about the post and she wasn't pleased.
Since Facebook changes its security policies about every 3 seconds, your worries are not limited just to someone seeing a post and telling someone else. In fact, personal pages on sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook rank pretty high in Google searches. So that means that a potential employer who's looking at your resume could also be finding out via social networking about your membership in that Neo-Nazi Glee Club even though your account settings are "Friends only." (Studies show that 78% of recruiters use Google to research job candidates and social networking sites rank very highly on Google.)
And don't forget that Facebook is like "Six Degrees of Separation" on Barry Bonds-grade steroids. Even if you make a comment on someone else's page, THAT person's friends will see it, and then every friend of those friends will see it, etc.
My opinion is you shouldn't have to totally homogenize yourself on your own Facebook page just to make sure you don't tick off any present or future employers. However, just be aware of repercussions and decide whether they're important enough to take heed of. In other words, there's nothing scandalous about putting up a photo of yourself proudly holding the blue ribbon for an international beer-drinking contest, but don't expect MADD to come knocking at your door to offer you a job.
But let's say that you just can't control the impulse to self-sabotage on a social networking scale. Google recently launched a tool called google.com/profiles that lets you create your profile and actually direct what appears when someone conducts a search on your name. You can choose to link your name with "safe" urls and employment information. Then maybe your association with Do IT Yourself Bombs Inc. might not be so easy to expose.
Get a line on your online rep
So how can you find out what others see when they're looking for the scoop on you? The first avenue, of course, is to Google yourself. If you don't like what you see, start posting keyword-rich content that will push some of the bad stuff off the radar. Write a blog about your technical specialty. Post frequently (but tastefully) to discussion forums of sites you use for your work, like this one!
If you haven't already, you should sign up for Google Alerts. That way you can see where your name comes up in other areas, like in that piece for an online magazine where your bitter ex falsely accuses you of being a fan of the Jonas Brothers. These alerts can be sent to you once a week, once a day, or whenever your name is mentioned online.
There are also some resources for finding out where your username crops up in Twitter land. One is a desktop client for Twitter called tWhirl. You can download it here. And TweetGrid is a powerful Twitter search dashboard that allows you to search nine different topics, including your name, in real-time.
Just out of curiosity, have any of you ever been reprimanded by an existing employer for something you put on a social networking site? Send me an email and tell me your story. I promise to keep everything anonymous.