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Indiscretions in Social Networking Can Ruin a Career

There are many stories out there about how embarrassing photos and posts on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook can cause problems for the user, even years after they were uploaded.  Potential and existing employers often research employees/potential employees by reading profiles, and the consequences can be quite serious.

For Example . . .

A case in point happened to a student at Millersville University of Pennsylvania who was an education major and student teaching.  She wasn't doing well, and was getting bad performance reviews, but it did not help when the school discovered a photo posted on her MySpace profile  that was less than complimentary.  As reported on the blog Read Write Web,

"In the photo, [she] was posed standing with a cocktail. The caption read "drunken pirate." It was accompanied by a note which made reference to her supervising teacher. That led to the school's decision to end her assignment, which in turn meant she now no longer qualified for her bachelor's degree in education."

The university reclassified several of her credits to qualify for a degree in English, but she lost a career in teaching.

Not Surprisingly, She Sued!

She sued the school claiming a violation of her right to free speech and expression. The judge in the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia ruled against her, holding that as a "student teacher" she was more a teacher than a student, and as such was an employee of the school.

Thus, in the employment context, free speech is only protected if it relates to matters of public concern, and her opinions about her supervisor did not fall into that category. A blog on higher education, the Wired Campus, discusses the decision here.

Lesson To Be Learned

Unfortunately, this is not an unusual situation, especially in teaching or any other profession where reputation and "rectitude" come in to play. What made it worse was that it was avoidable. Sites like these have privacy settings that can lock down your profile and make it visible only to those you choose to be your "friends" on the site.

In a broader sense, though, the lesson to be learned here is that anyone uploading anything to the Internet, whether it be to a blog or to a social network profile, should be circumspect in what they say. Once it is out there, it can never be fully deleted, and can often come back to haunt you.