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What Has a Longer Memory Than an Elephant?
Posted on December 13th 2013
Social media! That means those fun Facebook photos from your staff’s partying days are going to live on far past their college years. Can your accounting firm handle the truth?
Social media is awesome. Before the advent of Twitter, Facebook and friends, when you got drunk in a cute outfit and performed alcohol-fueled feats of questionable safety or morality, nobody knew about it! You might have earned a hangover or a few bruises, and possibly the lingering admiration and/or taunting of your fellow frolickers, but that’s about the extent of it. (Sure there were the rare hospital bill or future offspring, but these dramatic mementos were the exception rather than the rule.) Almost invariably, the fun you had and the awful decisions you made simply vanished into the abyss of time with your return to sobriety, leaving little or nothing to remember them by in later years.
Today there’s almost no risk that your most daring exploits will be lost to history. With instant upload and cell phones everywhere, your boss may know about that kegstand before you’ve even fallen down! What could be better? How about the fact that the kegstands you did before getting the grownup job or winning public office can still make an appearance, fully apprising your current crowds of your past “accomplishments.” And that’s a problem for jobseekers as well as the accounting firms who would like to hire them.
The newest excitement over social media surprises involves 2009 photos of Stewart Mills, a Republican candidate for congress in Minnesota. Visible on Facebook until recently, they documented the young candidate at a party as he enjoyed a beer bong and dramatically licked the lips of a female who didn’t happen to be his wife. His campaign released a statement addressing the photos in question:
“It’s no secret that in the past I’ve let my hair down to have fun with family and friends. My wife and I have had many lighthearted moments in our lives but right now I am focused on my Congressional campaign and the disastrous effects of our overreaching government and sky high unemployment in the north eastern Minnesota [sic].”
Mills is a viable candidate, gauging by his fundraising success up until now. He has a lovely wife and five beautiful children, and he’s quite photogenic himself. He’s a Packers fan. Yet all this may still be insufficient for voters to get past the fact that he’s a beer bong-loving party monster with a tongue like a lizard. True, it’s not smoking crack in a drunken stupor like a certain Canadian mayor, but it’s still a hard row to hoe for someone running a congressional race.
This isn’t new advice by any means but it’s worth repeating: Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother (boss/children/constituents) to know about, period. With social media and digital photography, you have no secrets. Your worst moments are going to become public at some point, like it or not. “But I didn’t mean for anyone to know about that!” Yeah, you didn’t. But they will anyway. “I thought this was a private event!” So did Mitt “47%” Romney.
The line between public and private eroded to the point that there is no longer any meaningful distinction. Your only option is to keep your pants on, your alcohol consumption moderate and assume you’re being watched by the very people you’d most like to hide from at any given moment.
If you’re an accounting firm that has dug up some of these photos about job applicants, what should you do? Depending on the severity of the subject matter, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you live with it. Embarrassment via social media has become so ubiquitous among otherwise responsible, respectable professionals (and members of Congress, too) that it would be strange if your team members didn’t have questionable photos floating around the internet. Hire the best people you can find and trust that they have the sense to behave better today than they did in the old photos you’ve unearthed. (And if the photos are current? Run away!)
Photo Credit: Social Media and Elephants/shutterstock