Media recruiting: the career dangers of tweeting

This article first appeared in Press Gazette

There was a minor palaver a couple of months ago when Datasift acquired the rights to search the last two years of Twitter feeds to serve its clients’ market research purposes. It was widely reported as a threat to privacy – equated with Google’s autoscanning of your Gmail account to target advertising.

Of course, there is no comparison. Twitter is, by its nature, a public platform. Facebook is – for most of its users – also public. So what has this got to do with a column on careers?

Ask Octavia Nasr. In 2009 she was dismissed from CNN for a tweet which expressed her admiration for Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, whom she described as “one of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.” Or Catherine Deveny, who lost her column on The Age for off-colour tweets about Australian celebrities – including expressing the hope that an 11 year old child star “gets laid”. Or Roland Martin, suspended from CNN for tweets that were viewed as homophobic during this year’s Superbowl. These cases are perhaps extreme, and represent a kind of hubris from established correspondents who got carried away. But even more damaging to careers may be the hidden scanning of social media accounts by potential employers. Media recruiting means looking at things like this now.

Surveys vary – but some reports say that up to 91% of employers scan their potential employees’ social media accounts. Whatever the ethics of this, you are best to assume that potential employers will look at your social media. The dangers of tweeting your desire for a massive spliff, or posting pictures of yourself in a Nazi uniform, should be obvious – and it should come as no surprise that your interview might be hastily cancelled.

We all think we could not be so crass. But I only opened my Twitter account (@MartinTripp, if you’re interested) when a high-profile candidate for an editorship we were handling seemed to be tweeting about that role, even though they had signed an NDA. As it happened, they sailed the right side of the line: others have not done so.

There are some great users of Twitter who work under pseudonyms (notably @FleetStreetFox) and who have earned a licence to speak freely; but it is a dangerous game, and one that can quickly cause you harm. It is better to keep your private life private and your risqué jokes for the pub. My advice for journalists – or wannabe journalists – is simple: treat these accounts as published work, and behave accordingly.