By Shawn McGowan
In the past, CBS News published an article regarding Facebook screening controversies. Both a job seeker and a returning employee were asked for their Facebook password by a company representative as part of the interview process. Similarly, Time reports that colleges and universities, such as University of North Carolina, are requiring student athletes to "friend" a coach or administrator on Facebook, so that they may monitor students' personal activity. Both articles make mention of one or two incidents, so at this point it's hard to tell how widespread this practice is. But I thought you might want to pay attention.
Is This Even Legal?
It's not illegal. Up until recently, Cyber-vetting was also controversial. Now it's a fairly common practice. However, accessing otherwise private data takes cyber-vetting up quite a few violating levels. In this case, job screeners can circumvent your personal Facebook profile's privacy settings and/or require you to relinquish your password.
Goes Before Congress
On March 28th, 2012 The U.S. House of Representatives voted on a bill that would have let the FCC forbid this activity. House Republicans voted the FCC amendment down 236 -184, though it's likely to resurface as another bill at some point.
Facebook Speaks Out Against It
Fred Wolens, Facebook's public policy manager, has gone on record saying these practices are unfair, and could open companies up to discrimination lawsuits.
"Employers would not ask people for their email passwords or bank account statement, and I think the implications are very similar, if not the same, to peoples' Facebook passwords," Wolens said.
What Does All This Mean for You?
There are certain questions that recruiters/hiring managers aren't legally permitted to ask you in an interview for employment in the U.S. (age, pregnancy status, ethnic background, religious beliefs). Many of these can be answered by glancing at your private Facebook posts. Not only is it your right to keep this private, employers who use this information to screen candidates can open their business up to discrimination lawsuits. By looking into your personal life behind your wall of privacy on Facebook, hiring managers can make personal judgments about your values and non-work related information, and ultimately make hiring decisions based upon these.
You may be thinking an open book policy is best and you "have nothing to hide". But what about your religious preferences, or lack thereof? What about your political affiliations or opinions? You have rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but you also have rights to keep these private, if you choose.
Your values and opinions may seem perfectly acceptable to you, but can be seen as undesirable by an individual who has a different view. That one person could decide that your values wouldn't fit with the company. Access to these facts, no matter how seemingly innocuous, can greatly lessen your chances of being offered a job in today's employers' market.
Fred Wolens says that giving anyone your private password to your Facebook profile violates their terms of service. Would you really want to compromise not only your private information, but that of your friends and family? If you are actually asked to hand over your Facebook login or "friend" the boss, try deferring your requestor to your LinkedIn profile, a social networking website made specifically for professional networking and discussion, and connecting with them in a more professionally appropriate setting.