In October 2012, Facebook made headlines around the world as it achieved its milestone of one billion users. This translates into the fact that one in every seven people in the world has a Facebook account. Be it that attractive co-worker you secretly eyeball, your ex-best friend from way back in the 9th grade, your personal physician or even your maternal aunt from Faisalabad, you can easily cross paths with an array of people from your real life in the virtual world of Facebook. Most people or businesses are but a search bar away.
However, with such staggering statistics come equally staggering repercussions. Today, sharing pictures from the previous evening’s soirée or checking-in from the local coffee shop (when you had called in sick from work) are no longer innocuous acts. Sharing private information could easily land one in an unanticipated predicament considering this information can be viewed by a far-reaching audience.
Take the claim of a New York newspaper, for example, which states that a third of all divorces cite Facebook in their filings in the USA alone. What seems like a harmless chat with an old flame from college might just be the basis of ‘irreconcilable differences’ ending in divorce. This social network acts not only as a catalyst to a split up but also determines the settlement. Lawyers employ Facebook statuses and pictures in divorce hearings and child custody battles. Pictures of you showing off your new Beemer could potentially affect your divorce settlement while adventurous pictures could paint a picture of you as a reckless parent. Such damning ‘evidence’ can easily be manipulated and taken in the wrong context to prove a point. Moreover, cases have recently surfaced where a spouse has been taken to court for ‘spending time on Facebook… as grounds for cruelty’ as stated by Indian celebrity divorce lawyer, Mrinalini Deshmukh.
Social networking provides an addictive platform for electronic exhibitionism where the user loses sense of whether or not certain information should be revealed. For all you know, your digital footprints could be leading to what might be incriminatory evidence in the future. Still find these claims hard to believe? Check out a website called Facebookcheating.com where tales of virtual affairs are posted almost daily. Yes, that is an actual website.
Unfortunately, Facebook’s interference in the real world is not restricted to matters of the heart. One’s professional life runs the risk of being tainted by the meanderings of one’s personal affairs. According to one survey, 92 per cent of employers are reported to incorporate Facebook among other social networking websites (Twitter, LinkdIn) in the short listing of their job applicants. Thus, most employers run a quick social network scan to determine whether or not the candidate seems suitable for the company’s culture.
While TIME magazine reports that one in every four recruiters has successfully found a candidate on Facebook, one must not forget that it can also serve to provide the basis for firing employees. In other words, content on your Facebook page deemed inappropriate or harmful to your company’s image may very well be the source of your termination. Shockingly, the content in question is not restricted to one’s intentionally public information. Take the story of Kimberly Hester, a teacher’s assistant from Michigan who was fired for not submitting her Facebook password after she posted a mildly inappropriate picture with a co-worker. While Hester was merely defending her right to privacy, the school officials assumed the worst and terminated her. This act was publicly deemed a serious invasion of privacy by Facebook, but it goes to prove just how seriously one’s innocent posting could be taken in the professional world.
So, before you click the definitive blue “Post” tab, think twice. Posting something on Facebook takes a minute but the overlap of the real and the virtual universe can make the consequences go a long, unforeseeable way.