Social Media Posts Can Come Back to Bite You in Unexpected Places

When you post controversial stories and images you are probably not surprised when there is a negative reaction. But even if you stick to strictly innocent, professional posts on your social media sometimes they still come back to bite you in unexpected places.

Most people don't expect that their LinkedIn profile could ever do them any harm, but several stories in the news show that this is not always the case.

Recently Apple has been sued for poaching engineers to develop new electric vehicle technology. A report published by the Guardian newspaper on 19 February 2015, Apple Sued for Poaching Engineers with Deep Expertise in Electric Car Systems cites as evidence for the accusation a survey of LinkedIn profiles of company employees. These profiles, individually nothing exceptional, when placed together paint a picture of precisely targeted people moving to Apple at the same time. Very few companies address this problem but employee LinkedIn profiles are well known to be a valuable source of competitive intelligence. I have never heard of anyone trying to control employee profiles, but in the workshops I do for companies I draw attention to these risks and suggest that people reflect on what they write in their profiles.

LinkedIn profiles are not just interesting in the corporate world. Journalists are learning to use them as a source to verify other facts. New Statesman published an investigative piece on 2 February 2015, Is the story of the middle-class Heathrow homeless couple too good to be true?, where they examined a story originally published by a tabloid about a couple alleged to be living in an airport. One of the primary sources in this investigation was the LinkedIn profile of one of the people involved, providing names of employers to contact and an approximate timeline. Increasingly journalists are checking online profiles as fast as they can find them and before they are removed as a news story breaks.

Even if you never use social media and never post any online profiles they can still cause unexpected problems because other people use them. As part of a multi-part series about foreign owners of luxury apartments in New York's Time Warner Center the New York Times published an investigative piece on 9 February 2015, Amid Complaints in India, a Real Estate Deal in Manhattan, describing their efforts to determine if an Indian property developer Kabul Chawla was the owner of apartment 68F in the Time Warner Center. Chawla denies owning property in New York but journalists at the New York Times noted that his teenage son posted photos on Facebook showing the characteristic windows and view of this building. This isn't evidence because the son could have been visiting anyone else with an apartment at a similar height, but it is very suggestive and undermines all the work purchasing the apartment through a string of shell companies.

If there is a lesson in all of these stories it is that journalists have learned to parse every public profile and post you make, so you need to be even more cautious. It's not just the drunken party picture or the shirtless tweet to teenage admirers that you need to worry about. Sometimes it's just your apparently unexciting career history on LinkedIn or the background of a routine photo shot by a friend or family member.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For interesting and useful lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about social media and other communication topics you can contact me by email at, by phone on 0046 730 894 475. You can find more contact information on my website


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