How Facebook and Your Free Time Can Get You Fired

Congratulations! You’re famous.Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other websites have catapulted all of us into the limelight of our own social-networking universe. But this “fame” comes at a high price. While you don’t have to worry about paparazzi hanging from your trees and selling compromising photos of you to US Weekly, you do have to worry what photos your friends snapped of you at Happy Hour last night. If you’re a great employee, should it matter what you do in your free time? Does it matter that you listen to Metallica, watch TMZ, support gun rights, voted for Obama, and are Protestant? It turns out, yes.

RepresentativeAnthony Weiner’s lewd photo Twitter scandal is just one example of how yourother 8 hours — the time you are not sleeping or working — can affect your work life. No matter how hard you try to erect a firewall between your work life and your personal life, there will be spillover. Sometimes thislife-to-work spillover can be positive, but as we’ve seen with Anthony Weiner and the countless others before him (and the many more sure to follow), who you are and what you do during your “free” time can be quite costly.

Psychologists have long known that we like others who are similar to us. All else being equal, you’re more likely to do business with someone that shares some of your values, interests, hobbies, friendships, and even zip code. Consciously you may remark, “I trust this person,” while unconsciously thinking, “because she is so similar to me.”

But if you use Facebook, Twitter, or other social networking sites, you may be at risk of losing your job or clients. Think I’m overreacting? Even though social media is supposed to bring people together, jobs have been lost, deals have been squashed, and relationships have ended because of Facebook and other sites. And just because you don’t have lewd or drunken photos of yourself doesn’t mean you are safe — seemingly innocuous information can destroy your work life.

Read these vignettes and think about what you would do or think:

  • You’ve met a new financial planner who seems knowledgeable and trustworthy. You visit his LinkedIn profile and discover he’s a die-hard Sarah Palin fan.
  • You’ve had a good relationship with your business attorney for about six months, but you notice on his Facebook profile he “Liked” a TMZ story on Lindsay Lohan.
  • You’ve been waiting two days for a call back from your psychiatrist, but you noticed she’s posted several updates to her LinkedIn profile since you left your message.
  • You’ve donated several thousand dollars to a small charity after the founder practically begged you. When you review the founder’s Facebook profile, you see photos of her most recent and lavish 21-day cruise through Europe.
  • On your CPA’s Facebook profile, you learn he is a fan of Lady Gaga, gun control, Glee, unions, and Nancy Pelosi.
  • You’re thinking about investing $50,000 into a local start-up. After reviewing his Twitter feed, you notice he is a fan of a gansta rapper that has been criticized for misogynistic and anti-cop messages.

Did you have a reaction when you read any of these? Did your impression of the person change? For the better? For the worse? If you had a response to any of these vignettes, you’ve just experienced the dramatic (and maybe negative) effect of life-to-work spillover.

Who you are is becoming more and more defined by what you do, your hobbies, the music you like, the shows you watch, who you call your friends, your political affiliation, etc. The line between “professional” you and “personal” you is now all but gone. The first step that will allow you to operate in an ever-seeing and hyper transparent world is to be become aware that what you do in your free time can have unintended consequences that spillover into your work time.

Your homework is to review your Facebook page and remove any photos, updates, videos, comments, or information that would make you uncomfortable (or more to the point, unemployed) if you had to show your clients, boss, or future employer.

There’s nothing wrong with you being you, but don’t confuse authenticity with transparency. Just because you like to like to watch American Gladiator re-runs or think it’s funny to do the Macarena after three martini’s doesn’t mean you need disclose this on Facebook or post a video on YouTube. Now that you’re famous, be your own publicist. Create a positive public persona by highlighting certain attributes, interests, and skills while ignoring or downplaying others. Trust me; it’s good for you and your career.

(Facebook Like Buttom image byFindYourSearch,CC 2.0)

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Tim C.
Tim C3 years ago


Terry V.
Terry V4 years ago


Lika S.
Lika P5 years ago

Well, you know, I'd been told time and time again, that with a cause, I would NEED Facebook. So I'm there. And I've found out that seriously? The people would rather know me as a person vs. the cause leader.

Then because I am a friend, people want to do stuff like tag me in photos, play interactive games, etc... I'm also finding that facebook is very slow. I'm wondering if it's worth while aside from having old high school classmates.

I can see where sending/posting inappropriate pictures of yourself is damaging, I'm not so sure how supporting a certain party president could get you fired? Granted, I think that Sarah Palin is disgusting with her whiny voice, I also accept that people have opinions, and many differ from mine. I don't let that affect what I think of the person, rather than condemn the person as being wrong or bad.

Ellyn V.
Ellyn V5 years ago

The problems here aren't completely what your financial planner, CPA, business attorney, or psychiatrist (?!) are posting, a big problem is also that you are FB/ social media "friends" with these people in the first place. These are all examples of people that you should have only a "business" type relationship with.
Maybe this article should also include a section on who it is appropriate to "friend" and who it is not. If you do not have a social relationship with a person you should most likely not engage in social media with them.
Combining people who manage your financial or medical needs, the status of which most people prefer to be confidential, with your social activities is just begging for conflicts of interest and ethics violations.

Amanda M.
Amanda M5 years ago

Like several people on here, I don't have a Facebook page, I don't want a Facebook page, and I see no need for one. Not to mention I simply don't have the time and have a thing about valuing my privacy!

Mary Mattarelli
Mary Mattarelli5 years ago

I have facebook and I love it. I don't share my personal information on facebook. I have connected with family and friends overseas, old childhood friends that I have seen since school, family and friends that I havent seen in ages. I have seen photos of family members weddings, christening etc that live in another state and I was unable to attend. Its not all negative, there is lots of positives to facebook too.

Sue H.
Sue H5 years ago

Excellent article, thanks for posting.

Jane Barton
Jane Barton5 years ago

Don't compare Anthony Weiner to the rest of us. It's entirely normal for teens and young people to exchange pics over their cells phones and there's nothing wrong with that. Put this in perspective, our LEADERS, the ROLE MODELS in our government CAN'T do this. Anthony Weiner couldn't control his own weiner and he SENT PICS ON THE JOB. His salary is being PAID by the American People. Diddling on the job is not permitted. There is nothing wrong with what he did, he just should have waited UNTIL HE GOT HOME TO DO IT. Sex is normal, showing weiners is normal, you just can't DO IT ON THE JOB WHEN SOMEBODY ELSE IS PAYING YOU. FaceBook is not responsible for individual peoples' sex lives, that is their own business. People should think before they put private information
on the internet because it will always come back to bite them in the butt. Instead of looking around to BLAME somebody, just THINK and blame yourself for your own stupidity.

Luisa Appleman
Luisa Appleman5 years ago

Posting too much about personal life is not right. By the other hand, we all have preferences and opinions and I wonder if it would be worthwhile to stay in a job where you are not going to be accepted for who you are and where you have to be someone you are not.

Jessica C.
Jessica C5 years ago

You couldn't pay me enough to open a Facebook account. Call me an old fogie, but I would like to hold on to the little bit of privacy I have left in this dystopian age in which we live.