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Just Like Facebook, Going Public Could Cost You Big [HorroR Stories]

Dear Madame HR,

Recently, in your FMLA post, you advised that the person send in baby pictures to their boss. This surprised me. I’m always worried about revealing too much personal information at work and to my co-workers. Isn’t it better to be cautious?

-Prince Harry

Dear Your Highness,

Wow, in 2012 this seems like an unusual question. Doesn’t everyone have a Facebook page nowadays? Is there such a thing as “revealing too much personal information?” Well, yes, there is, but still who gives a shit? I mean this is America after all, where the minutia of our everyday lives and innermost thoughts has suddenly become quality content for several websites. Nothing makes us feel more important than 12 people liking our status update regarding the current health status of our cat. Especially when half of those 12 people are people we haven’t seen or talked to face to face in 20 years.

But reeling it back in to the workplace, there is a lot being said about social networking and HR. We’ve all read the horror stories of so-and-so getting fired because he posted a picture of himself being crazy in Cancun that his boss or HR department saw. Or some other so-and-so didn’t get a job because the recruiter Googled him and saw a bunch of pictures of him kissing another man. We can all get indignant—that this is our personal life and blah, blah, blah, nobody’s business, blah, blah, blah.

Well, sure, like everything in life, it’s all fun and games until you’re held accountable for it, but I’m not going to preach, because I imagine my particular views on this subject aren’t the popular views. But what I can do is make a plea to all you social butterflies out there to think:

Don’t “friend” all your co-workers. Don’t gasp in horror when I say that. Step away from the mouse, don’t click the button. Just because you “might know” John from Accounting doesn’t mean you might want him to know your views on gay marriage. And if you are in HR, run for the hills. Too dramatic? OK, then don’t friend anyone who works for your company. I once heard a story about an HR Manager who’s status update of “I’m gonna have to fire someone today” got her fired. And sure, she was joking, but guess what? None of her “friends” thought it was funny.

If you refuse to follow my advice above, or it’s too late, OK, I get it. We form relationships with our co-workers, we might even sometimes consider them actual friends, so it’s just not practical or sociable or whatever. OK, so here’s another tip: Don’t talk about work, or your company, or your company’s products or whatever on these social networking sites. Sometimes when you drill down into the lore surrounding the Facebook firings (as I like to call them) then you discover that it wasn’t the fact that they were doing body shots off a donkey’s back in Cancun, it was because they were doing it while wearing the company polo shirt they got at the last company picnic. I don’t think you are going to want to have to explain to the Queen why you were doing donkey shots while displaying the crown family jewels (again).

Here’s another one. Recently we remodeled our kitchen. I thought it odd that the dude who tiled the floor and sold us our counter top wanted to be my friend on Facebook. I accepted, because, like anybody, I get that initial little blush: “You want to be my friend? My frrriieeennnddd?” (insert batting eyelashes here). So anyway, this guy is such a freaking idiot. Because he and I? We aren’t friends, we’re “friends,” and to be honest, we’re barely even that. And he posts the most senseless stuff, jokes about Mexicans, getting drunk, just random shit that I don’t really want to know about the guy who was supervising the guys I left alone in my house to tile my floor. To top it off, the other day he posts a complaint about how much he hates “pre-fab granite jobs,” and that “the morons should just shell out the dough if they want it to look nice, you get what you pay for.” I wish Facebook had a button for subtle cough, just a little “Ahem, remember me? I’m still here…” Like a, “are you sure you want me to know that you think your customers are morons? Really?” I mean I didn’t order pre-fab granite (Thank GOD), but still, I can be kind of a moron about home improvement (and my husband can be a TOTAL moron about home improvement, just ask him) and if I wanted to feel like a moron than I’d just do it myself. Instead, I work a job I sometimes hate in an insane industry to earn money that I can pay to you to tile my floors, NOT TO FUCKING COMPLAIN ABOUT IT! And now I’m starting to think twice about having him come back to tile my bathroom.

So this is why Facebook and Twitter scare companies to death. People are stupid and given an open forum in the comfort of their own homes they are going to say stupid shit. And we (the public) love it, just ask Ryan Seacrest who got a free trip to London so he could read Twitter feeds on television. Reporters can just sit in a room with an iPhone for a couple of hours and have enough crazy ass “news” stories to fill a broadcast (and that’s just from Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson).

But companies don’t love it, not at all. So please, be cautious, think about what you are saying and who you are saying it to. I hear there is some feature now on Facebook where you can group your “friends” and block them from seeing certain types of posts. Use that. And if you don’t and the donkey pictures come out and your company fires you, don’t come crying to me.

Some of you may be wondering, is that legal? Can they fire me for posting pictures of myself drinking tequila off a burro’s back? Well, sure, I guess. In my example above of the HR Manager who was fired, it was definitely one of those straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back type of things. But why give them the straw? Can you sue them? Maybe, but “people who like to drink alcohol off of pack animals” is not a protected class in this country (maybe in Kazakhstan), so what’s your case? A lot of companies nowadays have you sign confidentiality agreements or computing/information security forms that require you to protect the brand, not speak out the company on blogs, social networking sites, etc. So maybe you’ll have a case, maybe not. But, again, why give them the straw?

So to answer your question, yes, I think you should be cautious when it comes to sharing your personal life with your co-workers. However, I think it’s OK to send baby pictures. I mean, you’d probably have a couple of those on your desk anyway, right? Unless you truly are a private person and your desk holds just a stapler and a calendar. So maybe not then—don’t send the baby pictures. Trust me, being a private person is a rare commodity in this crazy world we live in, we should all be so worried. But we’re not, and frankly everyone just thinks you’re weird.

Good Luck out there,

Madame (that’s not my real name) HR

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