NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Recently, SCHUFA – the largest credit agency in Germany – announced a plan to troll Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites using web crawlers to find information about their customers' credit worthiness. From now on, Germany's credit applicants might find it harder to get approved if their status updates announced plans to make big purchases or skip bill payments.
And while that may not seem like a big deal for U.S.-based consumers, it does bring up a bigger worldwide question – can what we share on social networks really come back to haunt us? The experts say it can. In fact, your daily tweets could be hurting everything from your job to your relationship.
Job Hunting Woes
If you've been out of work for a while and haven't had a successful interview, it may not be how you're answering questions like "Where do you see yourself in five years?" but how potential employers see you now. While the National Labor Relations Board says workers have the right to bad mouth the boss (or the company) on Facebook, that doesn't mean they're not checking up on you.
"Regardless of the legal issues, potential employers look at candidates' social media behavior," said Marv Russell, a global HR executive and author of Finding Your Internship: What Employers Want You to Know. Even if you aren't discussing potential jobs (or employers) online, what you've said in the past can come back to haunt you. "Social media has an eternal memory," Russell says. If you've smack talked your old boss in the past, you may not get a call back now.
There Goes the Promotion
Even if you're gainfully employed, you should be wary of how you portray yourself online. NLRB rulings are great in theory, but Russell warns, "If you work in any employment at-will state, there is nothing keeping any employer from terminating you." Instead of risking it, he says, "trust if any employer is watching your social media and thinks your behavior is negative reflection on the business you can get terminated."
If you want to keep your job, and maybe even climb up the ladder a bit, Brian C. Haggerty, author of Put That Cell Phone Down and Look Me in the Eye: Bringing Civility and Respect Back to the Workplace at All Level of Business, suggests living by one simple rule: "Never share or write anything that you would not want to see on the front page of the newspaper."
Attention Criminals – I'm Not Home
Your job may not be the only thing at stake. If you leave home and check in at the coffee shop, you may be putting your identity (and your TV) up for grabs.
In 2010, Barry Borsboom, Boy van Amstel and Frank Groeneveld launched the site, Please Rob Me to show social network fanatics just how dangerous location sharing can be. All you have to do is enter your Twitter username – or anyone else's - to see if your check-ins are public knowledge.
They make a good point: over-sharing is dangerous. Tom Burnett, a spokesman for Wymoo International, says "[social networks] are prime hunting grounds for internet criminals who conduct fraud and scams, and seek to obtain information and data from potential victims."
And if that isn't creepy enough, Burnett warns, "By accepting a single unknown individual into your network who can then view your updates, information, and begin communication with you, a criminal can slowly gain your trust, obtain your information and steal your money."
To keep your identity and your stuff safe, don't share information like your birth date, place of work or home address on any social networking site, stop checking in when you leave the house, and save your vacation photos until you're back from Cabo.
Relationship Trouble Ahead
Then there's your relationship. While constantly refreshing your Facebook feed on your phone certainly won't help your sex life, what you – or your friends - post can actually damage your relationship.
Licensed clinical psychologist, professor of psychology and author, Dr. Ramani Durvasula, likens Twitter and Facebook to, "a bunch of drunks telling overblown stories and then getting called on them the next day."
Don't believe it? While some might think social networking is all about announcing your relationship status and tagging each other in weekend getaway photos, Ramani has seen examples of social media "bringing down the concept of committed relationships very quickly." Like the Facebook tag-and-bust. "Friends shooting an inappropriate picture of you at a party tag you on Facebook, it goes on your feed, girlfriend of wife sees it and indiscretion can turn into a life changer," Durvasula says.
If you're really addicted to your screen, you and your partner might not be the only relationship that suffers. Too much posting, texting, sharing and tweeting can affect your ability to read facial expressions, decode body language and communicate effectively. "If we spend more time communicating through texts and emoticons, we will become drone-like creatures who might as well live in a laboratory with tubes and wires affixed to our bodies," Haggerty says.
Most experts agree that while social networking can be a great thing, there is a time and place to do it. Limit the amount of time you spend on Facebook or Twitter. And try not to check your feed or update when you're around other people.
Adopting a few simple rules and time limits like those can help keep your socialization skills sharp, your job and relationships intact and your TV safe. They might also keep you from looking a little ridiculous. After all, Durvasula says, "When a 45-year old man is waiting for strangers to 'like' his vacation pictures – it is a sad statement on the person's sense of self."
--Written by Angela Colley for MainStreet