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May 28, 2010

Social Media: The New Gatekeepers

Which side of the fence are you on?
The other day a friend of mine sent me a reporting/writing-related job that could be done from home. Perfect. I see the name of the person I should apply to and of course I do what's now possible. I Google him.
Up until a few years ago, without Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or any of the social media sites, if you saw a name on a piece of paper the information attached to the name in the form of a resume would be read and judged on the merit of the information and how it was presented.

In terms of work search, you'd look at the piece of paper sent to you and not be able to do all the background work ahead of time to determine whether the person was someone you'd want to bother speaking with, getting to know, and perhaps work with, or whether they're actually the one that was admitted to the psychiatric ward according to your neighbour down the street who happened to be in there at the same time. Or, weren't they the one that cheated on your ex-husband after he dumped you? I think you understand what I mean.

In the past, a name on a resume and that person's experience would have to stand alone with only written or verbal references in the form of hearsay or word-of-mouth to substantiate their value as an employee and their character. But, that was then.

Not exactly a revelation I know. But, knowing something and seeing the reality of it are two different things.

The reality of understanding that when someone gets my information that they are more likely than not to Google me, check LinkedIn to see how many/few "connections" I have, or how many "friends" I have on Facebook, caused me today to feel a little down given that I am not a Washington, D.C. mover and shaker as if that needs to be stated. How much further away could I get from that reality I wonder?

Has this technology changed the way we "judge" in a way that might be considered an improvement or are all these social media sites just tools for allowing people to discriminate more effectively and in a more insidious manner with class being just one of the parameters they'll be able to discriminate against?
When I looked at the results for the person I Googled, it became really clear to me that I probably don't have a hope in hell of getting an interview even though I have the experience to do the work (being fully aware that so would a lot of other people.)

He's more than 10 years younger than I am; a fact he'll surely notice when he looks at the year I graduated from university and the year I obtained my education in Journalism.  His wedding got published in the style section of The New York Times because his family is financially successful enough to count and he went to the best journalism school in the U.S. completing a Masters and receiving a fellowship that enabled him to travel and work in a developing country.

Lest this sound like sour grapes, I'm also very aware that these sites can be really beneficial in aiding people to make connections they otherwise would not make in their natural and much smaller social circles as wel as allowing them to establish in-person meetings that often lead to very positive relationships.

Sometimes however, it can feel as if social media sites are just another virtual world of "the old boy's club" - albeit easier to penetrate - at least as an observer.

They are virtual first impressions that welcome you in or lock you out before you've even had a chance to truly show up. For me, it's a sobering thought.

What are your thoughts?

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