Dear College Grads – Don’t Hide Your Social Identity

A few recent/upcoming college graduates I know are masking their identities – completely changing their names on Facebook, protecting their Twitter profiles, and taking down their blogs, going into a virtual Witness Protection Program.

Why the extreme measures? They’ve been warned by career counselors that potential employers will research the students’ digital identities to look for salacious party photos, radical political views, and other undesirable information.

I feel bad for these young people. Social networking and the internet, which are a native part of their life, are being turned against them at a time when all they want is to start their career.

Something’s wrong with this picture. Employers have a compelling interest to want to know about potential employees, but employees have a right to a personal life, don’t they?

I wrote about this back in 2009, when we were batting around ideas for the NYC Department of Education’s social media policy. In that post, I offered some advice for individuals, and I think it applies today more than ever. It boils down to this:

You should participate in social networking sites and applications, blog, Tweet, etc, because they’re a part of our modern life. Don’t feel stifled by employers or anyone else, and please please please don’t hide your identity.

Just remember that things you say on social networks, even (or maybe especially) personal things, may change your co-workers’ (including your boss’s) opinion of you. You’ll have to live with the consequences, so manage your online reputation just as you manage your real-life one.

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