By now, the idea of social networking sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Second Life, et cetera, has become as ubiquitous to our culture as the telephone and television. While this has been a boon for people wanting to reach out to the world while still staying safe in their own room, it seems like it has become increasingly difficult to keep ones professional life and personal life separate.
There was long standing advice in the Career Development offices of almost every college that what you leave off a resume is more important than what you put on. Provide too much superfluous personal data and you open the door to be illegally discriminated against by a potential employer who can claim ignorance of the discriminatory reason for your lack of a position with them. One of the biggest warnings was 'NEVER put your photograph on a resume,' since that one little picture reveals your rough age, your gender, your race, and possibly even your religion and some physical disabilities, details the potential employer has no need knowing at the 'sifting through resumes' stage of employee selection.
But now, with all these social networking sites, it becomes trivial for a potential employer to gather a wealth of personal data they have no right knowing during the selection process. Our personal lives are becoming public spectacles with all these sites, and even the 'friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend' connections can be checked out behind our backs, connections we may not even be aware about; the guy on the 'DIY auto maintenance' board who 'friended' you last night may also have 'friended' somebody on a Beetles web board, who 'friended' someone else who is a follower of Charles Manson. and if all those boards are on the name 'network' such as Ning, the one that is the framework behind the Engineering Exchange, those connections become very easy to follow. Some boards may even automatically 'friend' two people if they have the same friend in common, under the assumption that tho people who have 'friended' the same person either already know each other through that person, or they have enough in common, due to the mutual friend, that they would like to get to know each other. Facebook, upon activation of an account, tries to link up everyone in your address book with each other, again assuming that everyone you have an e-mail address saved for has something in common with everyone else in your address book.
I don't deny that social networking sites are great ways to get in touch with people who you share interests with, and that it can supplement the old standby of meeting people face to face at trade shows and seminars, networking the 'old fashioned' way. But does the benefits of all the online networking outweigh the risks of revealing too much to potential employers.
(I haven't even brought up the potential for embarrassing secrets to be spread accidently through the social network sites, such as, say, being a closet Beatles fan in Memphis Tennessee, where it seems like everyone there is an Elvis fan.)