The ticking time bomb of digital footprints

Mail on Sunday front page 7 April 2013
Mail on Sunday front page 7 April 2013

This week’s news about Paris Brown brought home the reality of growing from a child to an adult with a digital footprint.

Paris wrote some tweets aged between 14 and 16 years old that contained poor language that most adults would be ashamed of.

What Paris tweeted (I’ve seen the tweets and they are not worthy of being repeated here) is completely wrong. However, the point to this case is that Paris is the first high profile case of a child who had made some pretty bad statements which have come back to haunt her later on in life. She won’t be the last.

There are a number of important points to the Paris Brown case. Firstly, I find it appalling the way the news was broken. The Mail on Sunday covered the story on the front page. Really? Was this really the most important story for a Sunday paper? Paris is 17 years old and this week’s ordeal has been out of proportion. She was 14 when she wrote some of the tweets.

The question is whether employers should check all social media channels for indecent content?

That’s an interesting question. Should employers check newspaper articles and letters to the editor too? How can employers check Facebook pages which are, or at least should be, private? Where’s the line drawn?

In 2008 there was a court case in the UK where a company took an employee to court to instruct them to remove all LinkedIn connections from their account. The employer claims to own those connections, not the employee. The case was settled out of court.

In the US, a similar case, also concerning LinkedIn, did go through to judgement, and the court was in favour of the employee, mainly because the contacts could be found in the public domain and replicated by anyone.

We are at the tip of the iceberg with these legal issues. These are new challenges that need to be resolved.

When recruiting, should it be standard practice to research the candidate online? What happens if an employer sees a photo of the candidate in a fund raising capacity for cause seemed inappropriate? “Inappropriate content” is a very wide grey area.

I feel sorry for Paris Brown. She posted something at 14 years old, has apologised for her comments, resigned from her job, and now has a permanent digital footprint across all the national newspapers which is beyond her control. Paris’ digital footprint, which started as a handful of tweets, now has over 38,000,000 results according to Google. She won’t be able to delete those so easily.

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