10/25/2014

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Seattle startup will scrub your social media accounts

Seattle startup will scrub your social media accounts
SEATTLE -- Have iPhone, will Facebook.

That might be the mantra for Matt, a 20-something Seattleite who works in Belltown, who asked that his last name not be used.

"Facebook is always (on) in the background," he said. "I'm not sure I ever sign off."

Even though the University of Washington graduate goes to great lengths to make sure his Facebook profile remains private, he learned the hard way that his other posts might not be - such as the spirited comment he made on a friend's page about a statewide initiative a few years ago.

"I take a lot of actions to make sure that my privacy is private, but I didn't take that into consideration when I was posting on somebody else's post," he said. "It kicked me in the rear end."

"I obviously didn't support the initiative and used some language that I shouldn't have. I got a call one day out of the blue," he added, recalling the incident. "(My employer) said, 'Hey, we saw some stuff that you posted. You shouldn't be speaking like that. Don't come back to work.'"

Matt lost his job - not unlike incidents involving a campaign staffer on a Washington state gubernatorial campaign last year and New York congressman Anthony Weiner, whose illicit tweet to a Seattle woman cost him his job in 2011.

That's where Seattle startup Persona comes in.

Call it the soap to your social media profile: It will scrub your Facebook, Twitter, or other online accounts of anything potentially offensive.

"Anyone might feel like Facebook or Twitter is their own personal space, but the truth of the matter is it's out there," said Persona founder and CEO Lee Sherman. "All too often people lose their jobs or they lose clients or they don't get that job, and they don't know why."

The downtown startup recently surveyed 500 U.S. college juniors and found that 71 percent know that Facebook can be influential when being hired for a job, but more than half of those surveyed do not think they have inappropriate content on their profiles. That's in stark contrast to a majority of job recruiters who say they have rejected job candidates based on inappropriate online content, Sherman said.

"When you talk to employers, when you talk to recruiters, when you talk to admissions officers and others, that's the disconnect," Sherman said. "If they see someone (online) consuming alcohol, profanity here or there, or maybe a misspelling, they will look to another candidate instead."

Sherman's company has developed a web-based program that will clean users' online profiles of harmful photos, posts, and other content. For a few dollars a month, users can have the service monitor their social media accounts and select things to be removed instantly. The service launches later this month.

"I think people underestimate the amount of damage that can be done by what might be perceived as innocent post," he added.

In Matt's case, his post was innocent enough but was guilty of costing him a job.

"I felt my privacy was encroached on. To me it was kind of a conversation in a semi-public place, maybe like sitting at a bar talking to a friend," he said. "It was a good learning experience for me and hopefully someone else can learn from it, too."
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