Be Careful of Your Digital Footprint. It Might Cost You More Than Embarrassment.
Updated: Jan 15, 2021
One of my favorite vacation memories stems from a trip my wife and I took to Europe. We eventually found ourselves in the French Riviera. (This story is completely true with perhaps just a dab of Grey Poupon for added flavor.) Taking a public bus to Monaco for around four dollars, I had slapped on a sports coat despite the humidity of the day. My plan was to enter the Monte Carlo Casino made famous in James Bond films. Hell or high water, I was going to order a 007 styled martini. Shaken, not stirred of course. Arriving at the harbor in Monte Carlo, I walked by a guy in a Ferrari. He failed to notice I had come off a bus full of tourists and wrongfully assumed I had just come off one of the many multi-million dollar yachts moored in the harbor. "Nice car" I remarked. "Ah. Merci Monsieur. I can provide you a Ferrari for you and your lovely companion for the day. The cost is $1100 Euro (roughly $1300 dollars)" I winced. "Unfortunately, my yacht leaves in about two hours." I joked. "Do you often summer in Monaco? " He asked. “Yes”, I deadpanned. "My wife and I love it here. We have a villa in St. Tropez" My wife rolled her eyes. “Magnifique! I’m selling the Ferrari for one hundred thousand dollars. We have others as well. I can allow you to take one for a test drive. "Sounds great" I answered. "This one is nice." Eat your heart out Magnum.
Being able to drive an exotic car on the same hills as James Bond, was quite the experience. As a kid, I had a Ferrari poster on my wall next to Spuds McKenzie. The wheels hugged the winding mountain roads overlooking Monte Carlo. The same winding roads where Princess Grace lost her life. The Ferrari growled through the same tunnels the Formula One drivers use during the infamous Monte Carlo Grand Prix. I returned the Ferrari and took home a memory that would last my lifetime. "Let me think about it. I'll see how I do at the black jack table" It was pretty tough getting back on that bus. I immediately posted the photo of the day’s excitement to social media. I was Magnum P.I. and James Bond rolled into one.
I mention this because (1) I shamefully try to work in my Ferrari experience in almost every conversation and (2) the day often pops up as a “memory” on my Facebook newsfeed. Looking at my newborn son, I began thinking that one day he could conceivably go through my Facebook history to see what kind of life I lived. The low days. The fun days. What causes did I support? How did I react when my team won a championship? How did I interact with other people? Was I a good speller. I wondered what it would be like if my own father had such a digital journal of his life. He lived through communism. The shooting of the Kennedy brothers. The Vietnam War. What were his thoughts on those days? What was he thinking when he first stepped on American shores? What was he thinking on the day I was born? My son could easily find my reaction if he was ever curious. For the record, I was elated.
For social media users, we all leave an eternal digital footprint that is frozen for the ages. I can go back and see how I felt when I graduated lawschool. When I passed the bar. When I hung my shingle to practice. At times I posted immature things. I posted jokes that bombed. I posted long boring posts ranting about one injustice or another happening in the day's news. Highschool friends posted old unflattering photos that I wished remained in their photo albums and not plastered on the web.
A digital footprint could have far more reaching effects than potential embarrassment. The word around the watercooler is that agencies like the I.R.S. are using the internet to investigate tax evaders. Imagine claiming no income only to have them find a social media posted photo with you eating lobsters on your new yacht like the Wolf of Wall Street.
Or perhaps an insurance adjuster happens across a youtube or Tik Tok video of your supposedly injured client waterskiing to his heart's content. It can affect your criminal clients just as easily. Investigators often find probation violations on Facebook and other social networking sites. In Illinois, a college student charged in a DUI related crash had a judge reading the captions of her Facebook photos passed out drunk at a party. " 'Erika passed out in my bed. Ha Ha,' " the judge said, quoting one of the captions.
A New Jersey blogger faced charges of inciting violence against a few state law makers. At the time, Connecticut Public Broadcasting reported “The charges stem from a post earlier this month. Turner urged readers in Connecticut to "take up arms and put down this tyranny by force." And that the lawmakers should "obey the Constitution or die." He then threatened to release their home addresses. On the civil side of things, some law firms have gotten into the cyber libel game. In Connecticut, an East Hartford Swimming coach successfully sued a student’s mother over a malicious e-mail campaign in which the mother repeatedly referred to the coach as a pedophile. The mother will now have to cough up $88,000 dollars for her online rants. After making the cast of star-making SNL, comedian Shane Tillis was fired before even making it on the screen. The online discovery of videos where he used a racial slur coupled with a homophobic and racist podcast shot his career in the proverbial foot.. So be careful out there. It can cost you more than you think.
Which brings me to a can of worms that will surely upset some. Parler and its alleged connections to the attacks on Congress. As of this writing, 25 cases of domestic terrorism have been filed against the anarchists that raided the Capitol. Apple and Amazon dropped the platform because it was used to coordinate the attacks.
After posting photos of themselves at the Capitol all over social media, people that took part in the melee have been losing jobs and getting arrested. It was announced that a Associate General Counsel at Gooshead insurance name Paul Davis was fired. He had boasted on social media that he was tear gassed. The company issued a statement saying“While we support our employees’ right to vote and express themselves politically, we do not condone violent or illegal acts. This one former employee’s actions are not reflective of our company culture or values, and we are disappointed with his behavior,” Aaron Mostofsky, the 34-year-old son of Kings County Supreme Court Judge Shlomo Mostofsky,
was seen in several photos during the Capitol breach. He was hard to miss. He was wearing an odd fur outfit along with a bullet proof vest while carrying a wooden staff and a Capitol Police riot shield. Mostofsky faces felony theft of government property, knowingly entering or remaining in a restricting building without lawful authority and doing so with intent to impede government business, and disorderly conduct in the Capitol. Not to mention the embarrassment he caused his prominent father and his family.
In chats with other lawyers, many checked the online histories of potential job applicants. "Sure, I Google the person or check out their public Facebook profile" said one. "It's human nature. You don't want to hire some unhinged nut" One Hartford based hiring partner even expressed reservations about hiring any associate who had a Parler account. "I don't care who you support politically" he groused, "but people who seek out Parler seem to be a bit on the extreme side or like echo chambers. I want someone who thinks independently." To be fair, they said the same about prospective associate applicants who did dance videos on Tik Tok. I once worked for a law firm that withdrew a job offer after the partner ran into him at a bar on Halloween wearing a distasteful costume. Some would say that's not fair. Fair or not, law firms worry about liability and their reputations. Labeled "Mein Space" by the snarky, Parler does have a reputation of being a haven of QAnon conspiracy theorists, Proud Boys, Boogaloos, millitia aficionados, white supremacists, neo Nazis and your Uncle Leo that tells ethnic jokes at Thanksgiving. Still others are very fine people. But is it appropriate for employers to check your social history to get an idea of the type of person you are or to try to determine potential liability? For example, does this guy not believe in wearing masks and could that be a liability for my company? Personally, I am a strong supporter of the first amendment. You have the right to say and believe anything you want. If you want to believe QAnon theories that Tom Hanks and Oprah are in a cult eating children, it's a free country. But in the real world, a business not want some client stumbling across your public profile where you posted a video of yourself yelling at a store clerk for making you wear a mask.
But I digress. I’m basically speaking to the new law grads looking to get their foot in the door. What are you posting on social media? Are you demanding politicians be hung? Are you making racial or ethnic jokes or quoting QAnon conspiracies? Are there photos of you doing keg stands? Do you come across as angry or unprofessional? Are you constantly misspelling things or boasting about drinking too much the night before? Be careful of that digital footprint. Make sure it’s not too muddy if you want to get that job.