Employ Me, Don’t Friend Me: Privacy in the Age of Facebook (PDF-240kb)
Employ Me, Don’t Friend Me: Privacy in the Age of Facebook Authors: James G. Gatto, Julia E. Judish, Amy L. Pierce, Meighan E. O'Reardon
With the unprecedented popularity of social media, individuals have increasingly been willing accomplices in undermining their own privacy. Few would have predicted that millions of people would voluntarily log onto the Internet and share detailed private information about themselves, their friends, family and employers. Users of social media have implemented varying privacy safeguards from unrestricted blogs to Facebook posts limited to a customized list of friends. Even those who seek privacy, however, must contend with a growing practice by employers and others of requesting access to password-protected social media accounts. Social media users have lost jobs and educational opportunities as a result of the increased scrutiny of these private postings. Maryland recently became the first state to enact a law prohibiting this practice; several other states and the U.S. Senate and House have similar legislation under review.
The inherent risks of posting personal information on the Internet have been recognized at the highest level of our government: in an address to schools in September 2009, President Obama warned students to "be careful what you post on Facebook. Whatever you do, it will be pulled up again later somewhere in your life." It is too late for many to heed this warning, and many social media users are reluctant to limit their self-expression. To protect these individuals’ privacy, several states and the U.S. Congress are considering legislative action that would prohibit employers and educational institutions from requiring access to password-protected content on social media sites.
From the viewpoint of employers and educational institutions, access to the social media websites of applicants, employees, and students may be regarded as part of their due diligence in making selection decisions. Prospective employers may use social media sites to verify claims in resumés and job applications. (The “Info” tab on Facebook, for example, can reveal a wealth of information about employment and educational history.) Many may also believe that they can assess whether a prospective employee is likely to be reliable based on whether the applicant’s posted photos depict frequent drunken partying or other conduct that may be reflective of poor judgment. Similarly, employers may wish to check up on whether the status updates and other postings of their employees reveal that the employee is bad-mouthing the employer or taking an unapproved beach vacation on a day that the employee called in sick.
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