What Tangled (Social Media) Webs Might We Weave When We Have Cancer

To Share or Not to Share . . .

When navigating current or future work opportunities, people with a history of cancer face important questions about what information to disclose to an employer: from deciding whether or how to explain gaps in employment on a resume, or how to ask an employer for time off or a reasonable accommodation. However, in this contemporary age of blogs, tweets, and status updates, sometimes the most damaging information that an employer has access to won’t come from a cover letter, resume, or water cooler discussion—it will come from how you live your personal life in the public realm of the internet, via social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. People affected by cancer should consider being especially cautious when posting information about their personal lives online because of possible implications for their professional careers.

Cancer and Careers—a terrific employment resource for people dealing with the practical aspects of being an employee or job applicant with cancer—cautions applicants with a history of cancer from revealing too much on social media sites: many companies do online searches to find information about prospective or current employees. Having a LinkedIn account or website highlighting your professional experience can be helpful, but putting too much personal information online can potentially be harmful. If you blog, tweet, or update your Facebook status about how you are feeling after a recent chemo treatment, for example, your cancer diagnosis is now public information, even if you’d hoped to keep your health information private at work.

Generally, employers are not allowed to discriminate against job applicants and employees with a history of cancer (for example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities, and cancer can be considered a disability under this and other employment laws). However, it is still sometimes in a person’s best interest not to disclose too much private information in the very public venue of the Internet. In our global, electronic age, these types of “disclosures” occur all the time: social media sites contain boundless opportunities to fill out profiles with information that will be shared with friends, family, and anyone else with access to the internet. People unfamiliar with privacy settings inadvertently share more information than they intended. The more specific information you include, the more an employer knows about your life, for better or worse.

While employers may be watching conventional social media sites for this type of information, employees with cancer can still benefit from the support systems social media sites provide by using sites that are specifically tailored to people coping with a serious medical condition, such as cancer. There are two organizational partners of the CLRC that host these types of sites: MyLifeLine.org and CaringBridge.com. For example, MyLifeLine.org, a site that provides free, personal websites specifically for cancer patients, has a built-in feature called the “Helping Calendar” that can let friends and family members know about a patient’s chemotherapy and radiation schedules, so patients can get help with rides or have a loved one accompany them to the doctor’s office. This effective tool can keep friends and family in the loop, and make it easier to ask others to help out—reducing the need for any one spouse or child of a cancer patient to take off significant periods of work to care for a loved one, and coming together as a community to offer support to those we know need it.

Another particularly significant feature of a different social media site, CaringBridge.com—a website that provides free, personal websites for all types of people undergoing significant health challenges—is that the site is not searchable. In fact, according to the website’s privacy statement, “[t]he only way to receive the CaringBridge website name of a particular patient is by receiving it from the person who created the CaringBridge website (the Author) or by someone they designate to share the website name.” In the context of employees or job applicants wanting to protect their privacy, these types of features are particularly important to keep in mind.

In the end, there is no guidebook for what to share and what to keep personal—but remember this: be cautious! The internet is an accessible and lasting place! Keep using the sites you enjoy or try new options, but keep in mind that your friends might not be the only ones who can see what you “like,” “tweet,” or “post!


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