Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Guest Blogger Cynthia Shapiro

Cynthia Shapiro is the author of Corporate Confidential and an upcoming guide for job seekers. Her advice rings true for anyone working in corporate America, for a small business, and even authors.

The Internet Could Be Working Against You
Cynthia Shapiro

What you choose to put on the Internet, in the privacy of your home or office, could be actively damaging your career and costing you opportunities.

Most of us imagine that what we do on our own time, on our own computers, voicing our personal opinions, is our personal private business, right? No. Not when it comes to the Internet.

An editor at a large publishing house recently put something on his personal blog that cost him his job.

An airline stewardess was fired for having somewhat racy personal photos of herself up on her personal website.

As a career coach I encounter employees on a regular basis who have been fired or managed out of their jobs for posting opinions about their companies on the Internet, participating in blogs, or sending emails to friends within their companies complaining about their bosses or their companys' policies. It happens every day.

Like many of you, I host a chat board on my website ( People are encouraged to share their experiences and ask career-related questions, but they are also encouraged NOT to use their real names or mention the companies they work for. One individual on my chat board unfortunately used his real name while advising fellow chatters not to use a particular reference company that he’d experienced problems with. He is now being sued for slander and defamation by that company. Apparently their business fell off sharply after my fans found out about his issues, and the company decided to take action against him.

Why is all this happening?

It’s happening because material posted on the Internet is now considered to be in the public domain. And there is a large gap in the legal definition between private statements or displays and public ones. The confusion comes from imagining that our personal opinions, photos, and statements are private. Well, they may be posted in privacy, and they may be our private opinions, but once posted on the World Wide Web they are considered public statements and are subject to all the laws surrounding public displays.

That means your private statements are now open to potential liability for slander, defamation of character, and can also be grounds for termination from your job.

And that’s not the worst of it. If you choose to post something on the Internet or on a blog about a difficult boss, company, agent or editor, there is an increasingly high chance that person will directly read it.

I personally read everything that pops up with my name on it on the Internet. I get a notification every time my name is mentioned casually on a blog, or is mentioned on someone’s website. Someone can post a casual comment about me and my book on their blog in Indiana, and I will be personally reading it the next day in my office in Los Angeles, sometimes even responding to it. And it usually surprises them.

I’m not the only one who does this. People all over the world closely monitor their “press” on the Internet. So, the chances are great that you could post something negative about an editor on the Internet, and that editor will be reading it the next day. In fact, those postings can get you blacklisted within companies and industries. Yes, blacklists do exist. I’ve worked with many disheartened employees who are experiencing it. All it takes is one posting, and your career could be over.

I was a human resources executive for many years before I switched sides to write Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn’t Want You To Know and opened my own firm as an employee advocate and career advisor. I know for a fact that hiring managers are scanning the Internet for anything negative or problematic with your name on it, before they consider you for a job.

I had a client recently whose story is featured in my new book on the secrets of job searching, to be released next year. He came to me with all the right credentials, great interviewing skills, and a killer resume, but he couldn’t get a job. He’d been trying for months and had experienced nothing but slammed doors. He was getting into a desperate financial situation. As I started my investigation into the cause, I didn’t have to look far. One Google on his name showed us the problem. Tirade after angry tirade on the evils of corporate America popped up immediately under his name. The problem was, it wasn’t him. Someone with the same name was a blog tirader and it was costing my client opportunity after opportunity.

The fix was simple. We separated him from the tirader by using his middle name to differentiate him (hiring managers tend to Google candidates’ names exactly as they appear on the resume submitted). We created a MySpace page for him that showed what a fabulous candidate he was for any job. His very next interview turned into the job he so desperately needed.

If you don’t know what’s out there on the Internet with your name on it, find out. If you think you can talk negatively about and employer, boss, agent, or editor on the Internet without repercussion, think again. Everything you chose to post goes out into the public domain and the very last person you’d want to read it is most likely reading it right now. The safest course of action is: don’t put anything on a blog, your personal website, or even on company email that you wouldn’t want everyone to see and read.

The Internet is no longer a safe place to vent your personal opinions or frustrations. Once something is on the Internet, it can be almost impossible to remove, and it can do damage to your career and opportunities for years to come. One misplaced opinion can cost you more than you know.

Feel free to ask Cynthia questions in the comments section. She'll pop in during the day to answer them.


Writers' Support and Inspiration said...

Great post, Cynthia! How do you have every mention of you automatically sent to yourself? I do search for myself occasionally, but I hadn't thought to have it fire off automatically, nor am I sure how. Any tips?


Kimber An said...

Wow! Excellent advice. It'd give me ulcers to use Google alerts, but I do Google my pen name and names my of novels occasionally. I'm very careful. All good so far.

I imagine this is especially difficult for authors. We're told to have an on-line presence. To make an emotional connection with our readers, we need to be *personable.* Yet, we absolutely cannot be *personal.* There's a difference and it can be hard to know where to draw the line.

green ray said...

This was terrific to read, Cynthia, as my new website is up and running. I don't think there's anything "dangerous" on it, but it's so good to keep this stuff in mind. Once, I accidently said something not so great about an agent in an Amazon review - and it was popping up everywhere. Luckily for me, Amazon removed my review, and now it's disappeared. Great stuff to keep in mind. Thanks!

Kate Douglas said...

Cynthia, this is something we ALL need to be reminded of. I'm set for Google alerts and check them daily. It's amazing how often things will pop up that concern me. I am constantly amazed at the stupid things some folks will post in public! Are there other ways to get notification besides Google?

Cynthia said...


Both Google and Yahoo offer an Internet Alert service for free!

All you have to do is log on to their "Alerts." (On Google for instance, you click on "more" on their main web page, click on any of the other items that then come up, this will allow you to then click on "even more" and you'll then see the "Alerts" function on the top left). Put in the topic you'd like it to search for. I use "Cynthia Shapiro + Corporate Confidential." so I don't get every Cynthia Shapiro that's out there. (You'll need to Put it in quotes as I have). Then tell it how often you want it to search and send you an alert (mine is every day).

I like to tell it to do a "comprehensive search" so it captures everything: my press, any blog postings, news group postings, etc. Then you give it your email address and you will get an email any time something new pops up on the web mentioning your name or book. Enjoy! -Cynthia Shapiro

Cynthia said...

Kimber an,

It is VERY difficult to know where that invisible line is.

My rule of thumb that I live by, and try to get my clients to live by, is to only put things on the Internet, websites, in email, that I'd be okay with absolutely everyone reading. That means even the very last person I'd want to read it!

-Cynthia Shapiro

Cynthia said...


Yahoo does these internet alerts too - also for free.

There are several other services that require a monthly fee such as Burelle's that the PR firms use, but I seem to get more than I need from Google and Yahoo.

-Cynthia Shapiro

Jennifer McK said...

I am so grateful to the writers that told me when I first got a blog and started participating in forums to careful what I posted. They saved me from some professionally damaging stuff.
I do rant and rave on my blog, but none of it is directed at specific companies or politics or publishers.
But there is a point where I became "too careful". In essence, I was trying to be so bland....that I succeeded.
Now, I still watch what I say and try not to go on angry tirades.
What is the balance Ms. Shapiro? When is it too personal on a blog? How does one determine the limits?

Southern Writer said...

Excellent post. This worries me a bit. While I can't claim total innocence, I know there are at least ten other "Southern Writers" out there, and there's nothing I can do about what they write. I recently shut down my blog, and if I ever begin a new one, I'll try to come up with a name that no one else has. In the meantime, I know we're often confused for each other.

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