In this post, I want to address the recent trend of employers asking employees and applicants for their Facebook passwords. I've been following the issue on Mashable, a tech and social media news website, since I first heard about it a few weeks ago. It must be big enough to be getting some national and popular news coverage, too, as my parents even brought it up to me.
This is an important issue for me since it not only has to do with social media, which is something I'm very interested in and would love to eventually work in, but also because I'm graduating soon and may be placed in a similar situation in an interview.
Please Google Me
It really isn't surprising to me that prying into people's Facebook accounts, regardless of their privacy settings, is the next step for employers in our increasingly social media entrenched society. I expect employers to "Google me" and search for me on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I even want them to do it. As a soon-to-be graduate, I've been working hard on building my online presence and creating my personal brand. I have obsessed over every word of my LinkedIn profile, checked every privacy setting on Facebook thoroughly, started tweeting about PR/social media/job search related articles, refined my Google search results, and created a flavors.me landing page to connect it all. I have videos of speeches I've written for competitions on my YouTube channel that I actually refer employers to on my resume. Today, almost all of our qualifications and achievements are published online, and your Google search results basically become an interactive resume and biography all in one. It has become a routine part of the job search process to maintain and groom your online reputation.
On that note, when I recently Googled some acquaintances out of boredom, I found some particularly nasty dirt on a person I knew, and I thought to myself, "how did they get that job?" I was shocked and appalled that their place of employment somehow missed this gaffe in their reputation and thought less of the organization for it. It is almost naive on an employer's part not to do any internet research on applicants these days.
Going Too Far
However, this policy takes it a step further in crossing the line of personal invasion. I honestly would not really care if an employer was to get my password in order to see my Facebook profile, as I have nothing incriminating on there. However, the site does have the capability of sending personal messages to friends, and I would care if they went through those. It is really the principle of the whole situation that makes it so off base. I mean, you have to wonder, what's next? If someone is looking at my personal Facebook messages, that's not too different than someone looking at my personal email, reading my texts, listening in on my phone calls, or going in my room and searching through every drawer. And even though I'd be okay with an employer seeing my Facebook profile, as I only keep it private out of safety rather than embarrassment, that's irrelevant. If someone does have incriminating things on their profile but is smart enough to keep their privacy settings tight, that should be up to them.
Social Media Can Be Good for Companies!
Companies and organizations need to accept social media, instead of shunning it without even understanding what it is. Social media and their employees' use of it can be a great public relations opportunity if employers are willing to be open to it. In today's world, consumers no longer have faith in those who used to be experts and trusted sources of information. The public thinks that politicians are too partisan and corrupt, that the media is biased and only tells us what they want us to hear, and that celebrities and CEO's are too rich to relate to the average person. The strongest brand advocates are now the people and consumers themselves. With social media, anyone can have a say, and individuals have an significant influence. Employees can be a company's strongest online advocates. The more open and transparent companies are, the more they can be trusted by consumers. Honest companies are better companies.
Integrate The Personal and The Professional
I've had doubts about this before (see The Personal vs. The Professional), but I think I've come to a conclusion I'm comfortable with. The best way to prepare ourselves for this continued entanglement of the personal and professional aspects of our lives is to do it ourselves. As I write this, I'm practicing what I preach. I made my Twitter feed public a month or so ago, and I continue to tweet my random life musings, but I also tweet about my professional topics of interest. I hope it leads to some great networking and learning opportunities. This blog started out as a journal of my DC semester, but this is the first post of hopefully many that will delve into more professionally relevant issues as well. Our lives are a mix of our professions and our personal relationships, and our online lives on social media should accurately reflect that.
Hopefully this trend of employers asking for Facebook passwords will end soon. (It has already been outlawed in the state of Maryland, some legislators are taking a stand on the issue, and Facebook has threatened to sue companies who do it). However, in the meantime, here is a good guide as to what to do if it happens to you. After reading this, I hope you inquire at your company or any you are applying to work for about their social media policy for employees, and I hope their policy influences your decision on whether or not to work for that company. This is an issue that will eventually have to become a part of every hiring conversation and become something that everyone will need to consider.