The Social Network

Date: May 11, 2018

There are a lot of people who say that Trump couldn’t have won without Facebook.

Facebook are currently dominating the news as it emerges they were complicit in allowing Cambridge Analytica access to 50m profiles which were then sold to help target advertising to voters in the 2016 US election (that’s the gist of it. I, like most other people, don’t quite understand the whole thing!).  This throws up some interesting ethical issues because Facebook’s defense is that all your ‘likes’ are in the public domain and up for grabs. But how much can you tell about someone from their Facebook likes? It turns out, a hell of a lot! Cambridge Analytica’s business is mining data to build detailed profiles of the users. With clever application of big data they are able to identify traits such as your gender, sexual orientation, income bracket, level of education, political leaning, lifestyle and a whole lot more.

Cambridge (not Analytica) and Stanford researchers have built a program called Apply Magic Sauce and they used this to compare the likes of 85,000 users. With 70 likes the program is able to judge you better than a friend or roommate; with 150 likes the program is better able to judge you than a parent; with the study average of 227 likes, Apply Magic Sauce claims to know you better than everyone apart from your significant other! They then use this info to draw conclusions about those people; for example:

If you like The Colbert Report, thunderstorms and curly fries you are likely to be of high intelligence. I love curly fries, but then, who doesn’t?!

So, it seems that for those of us on social media, we are likely giving away far more about ourselves than we actually realise. But what about the more obvious stuff on our profiles? When entering the world of work or searching for a new job your social media presence is something you should be increasingly aware of. According to Jobrite, in 2014 93% of employers checked out their candidates online before the interview, with 55% of them saying they have reconsidered a candidate based on what they saw. Whilst this practice may soon be in breach of new data protection rules, until then it is extremely important to think about what your social media says about you. Here are some top tips on making sure the message is a good one:

Privacy: If you want to hamper the efforts of strangers trying to find you, the simplest thing you can do is make your account private. On Instagram and Twitter you can reveal almost nothing until you accept a request. On Facebook, users are restricted in what they can see of you until you become ‘friends’ – this is usually limited to profile pictures. So, make sure your privacy is turned up to limit your exposure. The rest of this article will be based on people who have a visible profile.

Contact: might have been an hilarious email address when you were at school, but an employer will be judging you if you put this on your application form so make sure you have a sensible email address! The same can be said for your handle or username. In fact, a handle that isn’t your actual name will make you harder to find, and you could even have two profiles, one nom de plume which is private and for personal use, and the other public, professional and your actual name.

Professional: The level of professionalism depends on the platform. When you think professional social media, you think Linkedin. It is by far the biggest platform for professionals to network and plenty of people use it to find jobs and recruit – so keep your Linkedin profile professional. But this doesn’t mean your Instagram or Facebook can be a free-for-all. Firstly, consider what your profile picture says about you. A head and shoulders shot is good for Linkedin but maybe something less formal would be better for others. At the other extreme remember – first impressions count, so a profile picture of you naked-jelly-wrestling might not be the best idea. A good rule might be – would your mum have it in a frame?!

“A profile picture of you naked-jelly-wrestling might not be the best idea. A good rule might be – would your mum have it in a frame?!”

Show off: Your interests make you interesting so don’t be shy about your achievements and hobbies. Employers looking at your page might be impressed at your charitable activities, assume teamworking skills from your football team photos, or intrigued by your campanology blog. These are the sorts of things that set you apart from the competition so don’t hide who you are.

Be careful: Your posts are online forever. It’s highly likely we’ve made a comment when we were young which we regret in hindsight. With status updates, tweets and comments, that regrettable comment remains public. You could go through your history and delete anything that you might consider inappropriate, it will at least make it harder to find and should be missed by a cursory glance. Again, a good rule is – would you say that to your mum?!

Photos: A picture paints a thousand words, so be careful with photos. Just like your profile picture, photos of you out having a good time are fine, but check they can’t be taken out of context and make sure you verify the content before uploading them. Your Instagram gallery is a window into your world and without context, people will form varying opinions on you which are totally out of your control.

Consider others: I would always advise that you get your friends’ permission to tag them in any posts before uploading them. When you tag them it’s likely that pic is available to be seen by all their friends and vice versa. I know someone who was tagged in a photo ‘drinking responsibly’ at a festival which was subsequently seen on Facebook by their boss because a mutual friend was also tagged. That person was supposedly at home with flu – oops.

I hope this has been useful. If you want to check that I practice what I preach, you can find me on Twitter @iainskillscoach and I am (unsurprisingly) iainhunter on Linkedin. On Facebook you should only be able to see my previous profile pictures and if you can find me on Instagram there shouldn’t be anything incriminating on there!


Iain Hunter, Skills and Development Coach at First Intuition Reading