Job-hunters being asked to divulge Facebook passwords

Facebook Business

Facebook: Whose business is it anyway? Image: Sean MacEntee/Flickr/CC BY

It wasn’t that long ago that many employers started routinely using applicant’s credit scores as part of their pre-employment screening process. Now employers and educators are digging even more deeply into the personal lives of applicants to judge their worthiness. According to more than one unrelated source this week, many of the nation’s employers and colleges are now requiring applicants to divulge their Facebook passwords.

MSNBC report

According to MSNBC’s Red Tape Chronicles blog Tuesday, many government employers and educational institutions are now requesting access to personal social media accounts in order to screen applicants. One of the agencies mentioned in the report is Maryland’s Department of Corrections, which asks applicants to log onto Facebook under an interviewer’s gaze.

In the past, the Maryland DOC attempted to require the Facebook password of all applicants. However, protests from the ACLU caused them to back off. The requirement is now voluntary, but Maryland ACLU legislative director Melissa Coretz Goemann said that virtually all applicants submit in order to maximize their chances of being hired.

The article also reports that some colleges require prospective athletes to “friend” their coaches. The University of North Carolina, for example, recently amended its policy:

“Each team must identify at least one coach or administrator who is responsible for having access to and regularly monitoring the content of team members’ social networking sites and postings. The athletics department also reserves the right to have other staff members monitor athletes’ posts.”

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San Francisco Chronicle concurs

The San Francisco Chronicle also reported Tuesday that some scholarship applicants are being asked to divulge their Facebook passwords as part of their eligibility requirements. According to the report, 75 percent of all scholarship providers surveyed in a study by FastWeb and the National Scholarship Providers Association said they used social media to weed out those who exhibited behavior that would reflect poorly on the provider.  Some of the behaviors they are looking for are “underage drinking, provocative pictures, illegal drug use or racial slurs.”

Critics protest

Even Facebook finds the practice to be crossing a line. Facebook spokesperson Frederic Wolens said:

“Under our terms, only the holder of the email address and password is considered the Facebook account owner. We also prohibit anyone from soliciting the login information or accessing an account belonging to someone else.”

Bradley Shear, a Washington D.C. lawyer, told MSNBC that he sees the move as a violation of First Amendment rights:

“I can’t believe some people think it’s OK to do this. Maybe it’s OK if you live in a totalitarian regime, but we still have a Constitution to protect us. It’s not a far leap from reading people’s Facebook posts to reading their email. … As a society, where are we going to draw the line?”

Legislative action

Shear’s protests were heard by some lawmakers in Maryland. Last month, two separate bills were introduced in the state attempting to ban potential employers and educators from snooping into applicants’ social media accounts.

Shear says, however, that the proposed legislation does not go far enough. He believes that it should be a national edict:

“We need a federal law dealing with this. After 9/11, we have a culture where some people think it’s OK for the government to be this involved in our lives, that it’s OK to turn everything over to the government. But it’s not. We still have privacy rights in this country, and we still have a Constitution.”

What we are willing to accept

The job market continues to be challenging, and every job seeker must judge for him or herself how much of their privacy they are willing to give up in the name of job security. Ultimately, though, when the line blurs between loyalty and privacy, the choice of what we will and will not accept  it is up to the one facing the interviewer.


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