Magazine article Information Today

And Your Facebook Password Is . .

Magazine article Information Today

And Your Facebook Password Is . .

Article excerpt

There is no question that the economy, and particularly the job market, remains fragile. Recent statistics show a mix of limited new job growth and high unemployment rates. Media reports abound that describe dozens to hundreds of applicants who are applying to an individual job posting. With these conditions, job applicants have their hands full trying to impress a potential employer with their skills and their abilities to do the job that they are pursuing. But what happens during the interview when an employer asks, "Can you give me your Facebook password?" or if the employer follows up the interview with a friend request?

This situation appears to be more common as employers recognize that Facebook and other social media platforms have become the go-to outlets where many people share information. People use Facebook for everything from whimsical posts and collaborative chats to groans and gripes about life at work. Employers may take the perspective that they need to know not only their potential employee's work-related skills and abilities but also the characteristics and traits that indicate the person's capability of being a good, reliable employee. Many employers claim that Facebook provides insight about those traits.

Laws Protect Against Discrimination

A weak job climate gives employers much greater power in the interviewing process than a strong job market. Existing federal and state labor and employment laws give employees protection against certain forms of hiring discrimination, such as asking about pregnancy or children, health issues, age, religious background, or nationality. Both commentators and lawmakers are raising the question whether new laws are needed to protect individuals against having their Facebook privacy invaded and whether employers should be entitled to find out as much as possible before investing in a new employee.

It is difficult to determine the privacy of your internet dealings, but it's really not surprising that employers often will do background checks on potential employees, including what's on Google and available via other online searches. These searches tap into a variety of sources including the public postings on Facebook and other social media. A few years ago, I considered another professional position, and when I showed up for the interview, the first topic of conversation was about my (admittedly geeky) hobby of model rocketry. My Facebook picture shows me with a large model rocket. While not necessarily related to the "essential elements" of the position, it proved to be a good icebreaker.

Password Likened to a 'House Key'

But the private portions of Facebook and other social media are often places where people post and provide information to friends whom they would normally trust and expect to keep that information within their small community. One commentator likened a Facebook password to a house key, in that the public can view what one does in public, but Facebook is a cyberhouse where people can express views and engage in activities that they may neither expect nor want the world to know about.

From a legal standpoint, the private area of Facebook is also likely tobe the source of posts, pictures, or comments that could lead to violations of discrimination laws, such as pictures of children, posts about the sermon last week, or likes of a gay rights organization. If employers are not legally permitted to ask about these issues in an interview, should they be permitted essentially to require a potential employee to turn the same information over through his or her Facebook page? …

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