Because of the reality that HR people and employers search for your online presence, I have slowly shrunk away from having an online presence at all, beyond strictly professional stuff.

If you dig, though, in the comments section of certain news sites, you can find some remarks that I've made, and some of them are recent. They are facetious, satire-like. Nothing too outrageous, but certain political minorities (feminists that get upset at Game of Thrones, anti-vaxxers, Obama birth certificate people, etc) would consider me an evil Patriarch-Shill-Commie of epic proportions.

That said, you actually have to dig. Simply typing in my name won't yield the right results. You have to type highly specific things like 'My Name rape' or 'My Name obama'.

So the question is, how deep do employers really dig on these matters? How seriously do they take smartass remarks about politically charged topics, like campus rape and the Ferguson riots? How worried should I really be?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Jim G., Jan Doggen, gnat, Garrison Neely, IDrinkandIKnowThings Feb 13 '15 at 20:39

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • It also depends on how unique your name is. If its a common name, you can always just say that it's not you – Fredrik Feb 12 '15 at 11:07
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    With Big Data Analytics, no publicly available information can be considered safely hidden these days. For a big corporation, it is usually a matter of minutes to find your comments on news sites and any other place of interest once they find your social networking account. It might be prudent to get rid of all the comments that you feel might be embarrassing. – Masked Man Feb 12 '15 at 11:17
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    nothing too outrageous and the first example you give of finding your name... i highly recommend you stop associating your name with some words, even if that means you don't get those 5 precious minutes of troll time in. Some words should just not be associated with your name. – bharal Feb 12 '15 at 12:07
  • Actually, all the first examples of finding my name are professional things, not these things. You sort of have to dig to find my five minutes of trolling from last year. – Anonymous For A Reason Feb 12 '15 at 12:27
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    It is not just HR. I can give one incident were we had interviewed a potential candidate and were seriously considering hiring him. The problem was that one of us discovered his blog in which he shared way too much information about what he REALLY thought about his current employer including naming names and where he boasted with the braggadocio of rap star about his technical skills. No hire. None of us wanted to appear in his blog in the future! – teego1967 Feb 12 '15 at 13:41

It depends on the profile and importance of the role. High profile roles (e.g. C-level executives and senior management) usually have more scrutiny than lower level management and individual contributors. Higher profile jobs (e.g. sales and marketing) also face more scrutiny. Most interviewers will at least search for your name (e.g. Google) and look for you on professional networking sites (e.g. LinkedIn).

It also depends on the company. If a company has had issues in the past or cheap access to tools, it may be more stringent.

As a general rule, I refuse to work for companies that demand access to credentials (e.g. Facebook user name and password) or private content. While this violates terms of service and is illegal in some jurisdictions, some organizations may still demand it out of ignorance or intimidation.

That said, as others have stated, there is no general right to privacy on the Internet. Hypothetically, if you post something unprofessional and someone really wants to find it, they will.

For example, disciplinary action make occur if unprofessional comments (e.g. disparaging the company, promoting illegal or immoral activity) are brought to management's attention (e.g. by a third party or disgruntled coworker). In large organizations, this is usually laid out in a social networking or Internet policy.

The best approach is to:

  1. Avoid making potentially unprofessional remarks in anything that could potentially be public.

  2. Actively create and promote a professional image. This ensures the first links on an Internet search are content you want recruiters and others to see, not the ones others want them to see.

  • In what country would companies demand a Facebook password? That's almost certain to be illegal most of the world over as FB can be used as a source of your identity for logging into other services. – Ben Feb 12 '15 at 12:43
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    @Ben I have heard of cases in the USA, UK and Australia. Although laws are changing, this is not illegal everywhere and is often used as intimidation. – akton Feb 12 '15 at 12:46
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    @Ben, it is extremely rare that a normal employer would demand facebook credentials. There was a well-publicized instance of this were an employer demanded these from a prison guard and I am sure it happens sometimes with clueless control-freak bosses, but it is not a trend in any way. – teego1967 Feb 12 '15 at 13:31
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    @akton Actually, by providing your log-in credentials to a third party you are violating the User Agreement for most sites. For example, LinkedIn says "You'll keep your password a secret." and that you won't share your account with anyone else. – ColleenV Feb 12 '15 at 18:28
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    The other thing about handing over your Facebook et al login, apart from user agreement violations, is that it is a disgraceful violation of the privacy of your friends and contacts. Anything they posted "friends only" was done with the expectation that you wouldn't hand your login over to some random potential employer. – Carson63000 Feb 13 '15 at 1:01

There are services and APIs that can be used to track your social media accounts. There are several companies that actively use these to sell HR services.

There are basically two ways to be caught.

  1. Have a semi-unique name with known area/region.

  2. Have accounts that are chained. Meaning that you give company A your email address. That email address is linked to your Yahoo account, which is used for your Facebook account. Well that Facebook account is linked to another email that you use for your other Facebook account. You can effectively be tracked all the way through spider web. This can work with a variety of email, website logins, social logins - who ever shares data or has an open API.

What would I suggest?

  1. Act like a normal human being online. Just because you are online doesn't give you the right to harass people or to have views that you would not convey in person. Be real.

  2. If you want to act like a child create an email address with no affiliation to your name or other email addresses and create social media accounts through that.

What can you do if it is "too late"?

  1. Delete any stupid comments that you have made including rants or fights. For some sites this may be impossible or require you to go through several sites or steps. Try your best here. People say that once it is on the web it always is... That is only kind of true. Everything on the web is databased now. Once the database has an edited entry and the search robots go through the site again it is very hard for someone to find these comments.

  2. Change the name on the accounts. Don't delete the accounts but change the name. Again once parsed through these comments will be hard to trace back to you.

  3. Change the email accounts associated with the account.

Who looks at this data?

Well this is pretty random. Whoever has time to do this and people who think that a candidate is good but seems a bit off might invest in a deep search or pay for a service to do this for them. This is probably a factor of what kind of content they see when they initially look at your social media accounts (if there are off comments I am sure they will dig deeper) and how bored the HR person or hiring manager is.

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