Would you give a potential employer your Facebook password if asked?
By Chris ScullinPosted Apr 11, 2012
Do employees have a right to social media privacy?
Imagine you land an interview for the job of your dreams. The interview goes extremely well. You pass the drug screening and you are asked back for a second interview. In today’s tough job-market, this alone is enough to put most on cloud nine. The second interview seems to be going even better than the first. However, toward the end of the interview, your potential employer asks you to provide him with your Facebook login information. Would you give it up for a chance to pursue your desired career? Or would this invasion of privacy be enough to turn you away from that organization all together?
Over the past year, many people have been faced with this troubling dilemma. The debate as to whether this should be considered an acceptable practice does not pertain to interviews alone. Failure to disclose Facebook login information has resulted in at least one person, Kimberly Hester, a former teacher’s aide at a Michigan elementary school, losing her job.
Such cases are leading to government involvement on the issue of social media privacy.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives shot down a proposed amendment to the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act of 2012. The amendment would have allowed the FCC to interfere on behalf of employees and their privacy should their employer request their password.
However, some state governments (Michigan, Illinois and Maryland) have started the process of making their own social media privacy laws.
“It’s a right-to-privacy issue,” said Adam R. Todd, attorney at law. “But if the prospective employee gives the login information over, then they’ve consented to it, so they’ve given up their right to privacy. But I don’t think employers should be allowed to ask.”
Todd, who said he would not give up his social media login information if he were in that situation, also discussed why requesting such information is problematic.
“There’s information in Facebook profiles that, number one, is confidential and private, and number two, could lead to profiling and discrimination for things that the employer wouldn’t otherwise know,” Todd said.
Professor of philosophy and chair of the philosophy department at the Ohio State University Donald Hubin also saw ethical problems with this situation.
“It’s a very difficult issue because there’s a classic imbalance of power here,” Hubin said. “It’s a very difficult thing to say to a prospective employee that they should take a principle stand when the possibility of getting a job is hanging in the balance.”
According to Hubin, there are more people involved in the matter than just the employee and employer.
“The problem is that accessing your social media accounts gives [employers] access not only to what you’re doing there, but also to all your friends,” Hubin said. “Those people have not given permission for that to be given to employers.”
Though the practice of requesting Facebook login information currently violates no law and is completely legal, Facebook has taken action. On March 23, Facebook made sharing or soliciting a password a violation of its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Facebook has threatened to terminate the account of anyone caught doing so.
Since the process of an employer or potential employer requesting such information is not illegal, Nicole Kraft, social media and journalism professor at Ohio State University, said there are certain precautions everyone should take when deciding what to share on social media websites.
“I'm not going to put anything up on any of those pages that I wouldn’t be OK with either my grandmother or a board of directors seeing,” Kraft said. “And that’s the philosophy that I try to share with my students.”
To a few, the easiest solution would be to delete their Facebook account entirely. However, for most, Facebook functions as either an invaluable networking tool or a time-consuming addiction that cannot be conquered.
For those using Facebook as a professional networking tool, Kraft suggested using LinkedIn instead.
“I think LinkedIn is an amazing resource, and people that are on there are business minded,” Kraft said. “You could really make good connectivity that will serve a similar purpose as Facebook, but will leave you a lot less exposed.”
However, for the rest of the Facebook world, which uses the website as a way to kill time, Kraft advocates a careful examination of the content being shared.
“If we can get more people to recognize that social media, and anything online, is meant to be public, it is public by definition, then they will at least recognize the fact that people are looking at what you’re doing,” Kraft said. “And if you're ashamed of what you’re putting online maybe you need to reevaluate that.”
Nicole Seis, a senior English major at OSU, said she would not give in to the pressure.
“I can understand [employers] doing a search for you, and looking you up, but the password thing is a little invasive,” Seis said. “It’s an intrusion on my privacy.”
Sinthu Sivanesan said her decision would depend on the job.
“If it was an important enough job, I’d probably delete my Facebook account,” she said. “It’s not that important.”
Irma Dotto said she would not give a potential employer her password.
“I think that’s uncalled for,” she said. “And if they asked to be my friend on Facebook, I would block them from certain things.”
Leigh Anne Diener said she would judge her decision based on how close she was to the person.
“I am not cool with (giving my password),” she said. “I would delete my Facebook account before giving my password to an employer. But depending how close I am to the person, I might friend them.”
Gabriel Firestone, a senior physics major, agreed. “I feel like that if I don’t get a job because of something on my Facebook then it’s probably not the kind of job I want anyways,” he said. “I have a job right now, and I feel secure enough in what I'm looking for that I don’t need to change anything.”
According to Kraft, it should be assumed that anything put online is accessible to everybody else in the world.
“If you’re going to put yourself all the way online and expect that only part of you is going to be public, then I think you're being naïve,” she said. “People are willing to expose themselves to such a great degree because they feel anonymous, even though they have their picture and all this other information. But you’re not anonymous, and if people want to find things about you, they can find them.”