Why what you do (and what you did years ago) online matters to your career

Across the country, dental hygienists are struggling to find quality positions that utilize the education and knowledge we possess. Take control of your career while still in hygiene school and remember that your reputation is the most important thing you own. It is more valuable than gold.

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February 26, 2014

Recently I ran into an old colleague — a dentist — at a restaurant. We greeted each other warmly, having not seen each other in over five years. As he told me about his practice and all the demands of being an employer, he remarked about a story I once told on Facebook and how it made him laugh and remember the days when we worked together. “You’re still loving being a dental hygienist and trying to save the world,” he said. I was surprised when he said this because he’s never “on” Facebook. But he is, even though he doesn’t post or comment on things.

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In the past ten years the popularity of social media has surged. Pew Research shows that the number of adult Internet users who have a social networking profile more than quadrupled from 2005 to 2008. More and more employers are paying attention to what is happening on social media, right from the time they are interviewing an employee and throughout the time the employee is with them. Many believe that privacy settings on social media sites protect them. I have several friends who use aliases, thinking that will provide another measure of security. A few realize that there is no such thing as privacy and throw caution to the wind, choosing to use modern technology as a means of self-expression and socialization with very negative results. In September, the University of Kansas suspended David W. Guth, a tenured journalism professor, after he responded to the shootings at the Washington Navy Yard with this comment on Twitter:

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Last year, public relations executive Justine Sacco set off an avalanche of fury after this tweet:

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Media company IAC promptly fired her and she issued an apology. Laraine Cook, a former girls’ basketball coach at Pocatello High School in Idaho, was fired from her job in October over a Facebook photo in which her fiancé, Tom Harrison (who is a high school football coach), holds her breast. Harrison was reprimanded.

Considering that we are all human and make foolish mistakes, how can a person go back and delete an embarrassing picture, post, or tweet? Deactivating an account will remove all the user’s information from Internet sources but not from the site’s servers. And it’s likely that once you realize your mistake, someone has already taken a screenshot of your tweet. States are now realizing the need to protect its citizens. In California, a bill authored by Sen. Darrell Steinberg was signed into law by Gov. Brown. Taking effect in 2015, it will require Web companies to remove online activity if a California minor requests it. Similar California legislation protects victims of domestic violence, but provides no protection for adults who have simply made poor choices.

If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of regretting some of your social media contributions, there are professionals who can help you manage the aftermath. A Google search of social media protection and privacy will bring up businesses that specialize in managing accounts. If you’d like more information, Privacy Right Clearinghouse is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to protect the privacy of American citizens. The Center for Democracy & Technology is a group “committed to finding innovative, practical, and balanced solutions to the tough policy challenges facing the rapidly evolving Internet environment.”

Dental hygienists are disease prevention specialists. We can use this healthcare concept as we utilize social media. Instead of scrambling to delete embarrassing pictures or commentary, a better, more effective way of protecting ourselves is to never share these moments digitally. The current job market is very competitive. Across the country, dental hygienists are struggling to find quality positions that utilize the education and knowledge we possess. Take control of your career while still in hygiene school and remember that your reputation is the most important thing you own. It is more valuable than gold.

More by Macri:
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Author Diana MacriDiana Macri is a registered dental hygienist in New York City and co-author of the hygiene blog Empire Hygeniuses. Currently she is an adjunct lecturer at New York City College of Technology and an assistant professor at Hostos Community College. She is a strong advocate for the profession and seeks to promote its expansion and visibility. She practices and teaches in New York City, where she happily resides with her three sons. She may be reached at dmrdh@aol.com.

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