In a few weeks, the graduating class of 2012 will leave the hollow halls of the ivory tower and embark on their quest for employment. In the age of the Internet and social networking sites, graduates and other applicants now face a new possible dilemma at the interview table: the possibility of having a possible employer snoop through their Facebook profiles.
In the past few years, applicants have been warned about the possibility of employers doing background checks via publicly viewable profiles on social media platforms. Lately, however, more and more people are complaining that employers are using a more direct strategy: asking for Facebook passwords in interviews.
It’s understandable that employers, in wanting to make the right hiring choice, would like to make sure that their potential employee behaves appropriately online. But there’s a difference between a person’s private life and a person’s public life.
A person has the right to privacy and how one acts in one’s private life is not necessarily an appropriate indicator of performance in the workplace. Before the days of the Internet, it was inappropriate for employers to ask certain personal questions or snoop on employees’ private lives. Just because the Internet has made those private lives more accessible does not make it appropriate for employers to take advantage of that information.
It is not just potential employers that are taking advantage of social media; school administrators have also used posts on social media websites as grounds for disciplinary action. Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in a district court on behalf of a student who claimed that she was suspended for posting negative comments about a staff member, and that she was forced to turn over her Facebook password.
When is something written about a staff member online libel, and when does a student have the right to express their feelings about the school without the fear of suspension? Schools cannot take disciplinary action against students for badmouthing teachers amongst their friends, so should the same standard apply here as well? Does it matter how many people see the comments?
The need for a national social media privacy bill seems clear, not just to protect students and potential employees, but to set the standard for online libel as well. The state of Maryland last month successfully passed a social media privacy bill that prevents employers from requesting social media passwords as a prerequisite for employment. A bill introduced in the United States Congress called SNOPA (Social Networking Online Protection Act) goes even further than the Maryland bill, prohibiting both employers and schools from asking for passwords. In Canada, no legislation similar to SNOPA has yet been proposed.
Until such legislation is introduced, it’s best to not write anything on Facebook that could possibly be considered libellous and to navigate your privacy settings so as not to be discovered by nosy employers.