Warning: You are who Google says you are
Facebook and Twitter users may find that these social media sites are not their “friends” when they are looking for a job, are in trouble with the law or become the subject of an investigation.
In my work as a forensic accountant at Boyer & Ritter, LLC, many times I’m called upon to help clients review social media as part of an investigation. For good or bad, the new saying holds true: “You are who Google says you are.”
The videos and images you post, the photos you “like,” and the “friends” you keep can all have dangerous consequences if you don’t think before you post.
Social media, only in our midst since 2004, has altered forever the way employers find new employees and root out fraud, falsehoods, conflicts of interest and even “playing” on the job. Many of us fail to realize that our “private” thoughts are anything but.
Social media monitoring
Many employers now monitor their prospective and existing employees’ use of social media.
The platforms most commonly used for social media investigations include Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, Biznar, Pinterest, Instagram, and Google+.
The ever-growing number of social media platforms can identify compromising or inappropriate employee behaviors, fraud, interests, and networks, and can furnish clues to a person’s suitability for a job. In some cases, employee social media usage inadvertently compromises sensitive company or client information, especially in a medical, school or law enforcement setting.
According to a Bloomberg Law article by Spencer Hamer, 75 percent of employees access social media daily on the job, with 60 percent doing it multiple times per day. Only 23 percent of the employees, however, received a social media policy from their employers, and fewer than 10 percent received social media training.
In this managerial vacuum, it is imperative that employers develop and implement a social media investigation policy to protect their interests and their employees’ rights.
Guidelines and investigations
Though individuals are free to express themselves –especially after work hours — their freedom of speech should not impair the work of their employer or expose confidential information.
Many employees include their place of employment in their personal social media profiles. While this practice may seem innocent enough, if inappropriate content is included in the employee’s activities, his or her company is inadvertently associated with those messages.
Companies may want to include guidelines for social media usage in their code of conduct to ensure employees’ personal social media accounts and activities do not contain obscene or sexually explicit language, images or acts, and speech that ridicules, maligns, disparages or otherwise expresses bias against any race, religion or protected class.
If a complaint is lodged or a breach is suspected, a social media investigation is the next step.
The investigation will seek to uncover inappropriate employee behavior, such as photos at the workplace that could expose a company to hackers. For example, an employee may take a “selfie” in the office, where sensitive company or client information is in plain sight. Or an employee could be playing sports or engaging in other physical activities while on sick leave or receiving worker’s compensation.
Employers could also discover outside businesses which could pose a conflict of interest or a non-compete infringement or that the employee is potentially using company assets to operate. Employers will want to gauge company name placement, especially on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other accounts where inappropriate content may exist.
If an employee is defrauding the company, social media sites can reconstruct a network of potential accomplices to the fraudster or individuals who may provide information relevant to the investigation. The sites can identify companies owned by the fraudster, where embezzled funds may have been diverted. Suggested search criteria for these searches include full name; nickname, if known; email address, either work or personal, if known; and cell phone.
Investigators must know how to set privacy settings so their identity is not disclosed.
Media-savvy users should be forewarned and always build a reputable online profile that they can be proud of. Because you never know who is “following” you.
Lisa A. Myers, CPA, CFE, MAFF, FCPA, CGMA, is a principal at Boyer & Ritter, LLC and heads the firm’s Forensic, Valuation and Litigation Support Services groups. She is also the 2016-17 president of the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA). Lisa can be reached at 717-761-7210 or firstname.lastname@example.org