Monday, February 27, 2012

Cautious Parent Or Internet Snoop: How I Used Social Media To Check Up On A Potential Babysitter.

When it comes to social media, like most people of my generation, I'm knee deep in it. I use Facebook to keep in touch with friends; Twitter to talk to other bloggers; Pinterest to collect pretty things I find online; YouTube to watch everything from how to clean grout to music videos; and LinkedIn for my professional thingimajigs.

So it should come as no surprise that when, last week, I received an email from a girl applying for the babysitting position I'd posted earlier that day, that the first thing my social-media-trigger-happy fingers did was, look her up.

The girl - let's call her Polly - seemed fine in her email. More than fine, in fact. She gushed about how much children loved her and how much she loved children and how she would love to work with us. It was all love, love, love with Polly. Her enthusiasm hooked me. If I'm going to hire someone to spend time with my kids why wouldn't I chose someone with a glass-half-full, everything-shiny-rainbows-and-unicorns attitude? I responded right away, asking her for more information.

As our email stream ping-ponged back and forth, I googled her. Because - well, naturally. It's all very well saying you love kids but what if really you're a troll with warts and spikes? What if you're telling me one thing and hiding something else? What if what if what if? (and breathe....) One paragraph in an email tells me very little, but the Internet? There's no telling what you might find out about a person there from a few search words. When it comes to my kids, there's no room for error. If someone's going to look after my children, I need to know who they are.

Of course, ten years ago I wouldn't have been able to dig any deeper into Polly's past. I would probably have spoken to her on the phone, then met her and hired her and been no wiser to whatever else was going on in her life.

So I googled her. Among other things I came across her Facebook page - the crown jewel of biographies. I clicked onto her page and read it. All of it. Most people I know have fixed their privacy settings to limit access to their profile. But Polly had not. Polly's Facebook page was wide open for the world to see. There she was - her photographs, her wall posts (an hour-by-hour account of her life), her friends, her hobbies, the music she listened to and the books she read. All of it right there, available for me to ponder with my cup of tea. It was a detailed insight into this girl's life I would otherwise never have seen.

Admittedly I felt strange looking at Polly's Facebook page with all her private stuff on display. I felt like a snoop - a sneaky impostor peeking through someone's living room window. But then I remembered that she was going to be looking after my children and ditched the guilt.

The first thing that struck me were the number of expletives in her wall posts. But okay - she was eighteen. So, okay. 

The next thing that struck me was the pattern of negativity: "my life sucks", "my life is bull s&$%", "everyone sucks", "I need a job", "I really need a job", "why will no one hire me?", "keep your F'n job I don't want it anyway", "I'm bored", "I'm bored", "I'm bored". Etc., etc.

Suddenly positive Polly was no longer seeming so positive.

But maybe she was just going through a bad patch. 

Then one wall post caught my eye in a way that made my stomach turn slightly. And then another. Apparently, in Polly's world, it's okay refer to women as "bitches" in casual chat. And apparently, according to Polly, "bitches" should not be allowed to drive. In fact, "bitches"shouldn't even own a car. Worse of all, in the land of Polly, talking hatefully about one's own mother on Facebook is an acceptable thing to do.

The expletives I could handle, the negativity could be overlooked, but the blatant sexism and the mean remarks about her own mother? It all gave me a very bad feeling in my gut. I couldn't erase the things I'd read from my mind and at that very moment I realized I'd never be able to confidently leave this girl alone with my kids.

I wrote to Polly and canceled the meeting.

Then I went to Twitter to throw the subject out for discussion: what did other moms think about this? What would they do? Was I wrong to have snooped around on her? Within minutes I heard back from several moms, most of whom said they would have done the same thing.

When in doubt, always ask Twitter.

I then paid to join a nanny finder web site, feeling the need for a little extra security. Or a little extra something - I don't know. Now I have some great-looking, background-checked, references-coming-out-of-the-wazoo babysitters lined up for interviews.

(I may still have to don my Internet sleuth hat though, you know, just for good measure.)

What do you think? Is it okay to use the Internet to check up on someone you're hiring? Is reading their Facebook wall crossing a moral line? Where is the line between wanting to protect your children and being a snoop?

What would you do?
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Bibliomama said...

If you'd had to hack into her site, I might have a qualm or two. If she's dumb enough to leave it open to the world I don't see how anyone could fault you for looking at it. And yeah - if you're leaving someone with the most important things in your life, you want to be fairly sure they're not a complete asshole. Of course, I once drove past a prospective babysitter's home and wrote down her license plate number, so I might not be the one to ask (in my defense I was in the grip of low-estrogen-birth-control-pill-generated lunacy).

Lady Mama said...

Bibliomama - no judgment here, these are simply the lengths we go to to protect our children.

Cinamongirl17 said...

People ask for reference checks when they're just did your own. Your hiring someone to look after the most precious thing in your life, I would've done the same thing, and to me it's not snooping really; whatever you put out there is available for anyone to find.
I see no problem!

Loukia said...

I would have totally done the same thing as you! She just does not sound like someone I would want looking after my kids!

Liz @ A Nut in a Nutshell said...

I think you were wise to use the resources to look into it a little further. When your gut sounded off about it, that was that. I'd have canceled the meet too. Good for you!

Christy said...

I can't believe I've never googled or done other online research on my sitters! In my defense, I have found them all through and, so they already had background checks and references, etc...but you can bet I'm going to be googling them now. And yes, you absolutely did the right thing - she doesn't sound like a fit sitter at all.

Lady Mama said...

Cinamongirl17 - In a way I suppose it's like a having a blog - if you publish something that's not protected by privacy settings you have to expect that anyone might read it and be mindful of that when you post.

Lady Mama said...

Christy - Yes when you go through an agency you have that added peace of mind factor - the nannies already have background checks and have made the effort of joining a site, they're probably fine. Still, a little googling is allowed if you feel inclined!

Heidi said...

Yes! It is totally acceptable to look online. If they didn't want to be found online they wouldn't be there.

This girl sounds like she needs a lesson in some online etiquette. She's probably not getting jobs because of her online 'behavior'. I used to work for an employment counseling group and this is the very thing we warned people about.

Anyway...I'm glad you found her out and saved yourself some trouble. :) Here's hoping for some great babysitters!!

Kristy said...

It's not illegal - use what's out there to your benefit!