On Your Business, I pointed to an example where I believe a request for a Facebook password as part of the hiring process is entirely reasonable: the childcare industry. If I am running a school or a day care center, the time to find out that a teacher or other worker has a record of inappropriate social media communication with minors, or worse, a history of or predilection for sexual relationships with students, is during the hiring process—as New York City is finding out the hard way, with an epidemic of public school employees being revealed to have had such relationships with students. To me, such a request falls into the same category of checking the backgrounds of potential employees as the common (also still debated) practice of asking job applicants to agree to a credit check, especially for jobs that will require them to handle money, keep the books or carry out other fiscal duties on behalf of a company. In these and other cases, safety and security issues, and the legal liability that they create for business owners if they are not adequately addressed during the hiring process, outweigh the job applicant’s expectation of privacy when it comes to their social media activities.
Speaking of which, I can still hear people screaming (actually tweeting and retweeting), that an employer asking for your Facebook password is a horrible invasion of privacy. Well, for those of you who still believe in Santa Claus, I strongly recommend that you read The Filter Bubble: What The Internet is Hiding From You by Eli Pariser (Penguin Press). Or you can just take my advice and let go of the illusion of privacy on social media. The courts are conflicted, at best, on whether we as social media users have a right to an expectation of privacy, with many cases being decided against such expectations. The last place you want to share anything that is truly private is on your Facebook page or any other social media platform. Better to think of social media as the ultimate “Front Street.” No matter what their privacy policies are (which they can change at will without your permission) and what privacy tools and settings they offer (which they also change whenever it suits their business models), always assume that posting on Facebook is just the ticking time-bomb version of you shouting your private business from the middle of Times Square—on steroids.
To paraphrase a quote shared in The Filter Bubble, if you’re getting something for free, you’re not the customer, you’re the product. Social media is designed for the information shared on it to be searched and shared—and mined for profit. The business model is the very antithesis of the expectation of privacy. To ignore that reality is to have blind faith in Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc. operating in your best interests above all else, at all times. (I don’t.)
Whether you agree with me or not about a whether a potential employer asking you for your Facebook password is fair game, I hope you’ll take my advice: When considering what to share via social media, don’t think business vs. personal. Think public vs. private. And if something is truly private, do not share it on social media out of a misplaced faith in the expectation of privacy.
This debate is far from over, and efforts to update existing, but woefully outdated, privacy laws—not to mention the hiring practices of companies—to catch up with the realities of social media will definitely continue. I’d like to know where you stand, both as entrepreneurs and business owners, as well as potential job applicants. And I’d especially like to hear from human resources and recruiting experts. How far is too far when it comes to a potential employer investigating the social media activity of a job applicant?
Watch my appearance on MSNBC’s Your Business below: