This is really not a new topic of discussion. For years I have seen and given out a sage piece of advice to people – If you don’t want to be embarrassed by it don’t post it online. It has constantly amazed me the number of people that simply fail to follow that advice. People will post pictures of themselves at a restaurant with two empty beer glasses while working on a third at a topless bar, or of taking hits on joints, or other stupid things, all while not realizing that these pictures are searchable. They will also post things to forums without the slightest thought as to language being used.
It should really be no surprise that employers would eventually start looking at this type of thing as an indicator of ethics in employees and potential employees.
As a result people are now being turned down for employment and being dismissed from employment for things posted online. While this is nothing new – employers have done this before with other forms of communication such as letters to the local paper – it is now a much bigger issue.
The best advice someone can receive is this – keep your online postings business-like and professional. If that is done then the problem of an employer holding it against you is minimized.
Now I’m not going to say that the current problem is entirely one of the employee’s creation. Indeed, employers asking for Facebook and other social media logins are opening themselves to a large load of potential problems, some quite serious.
First off, there is the moral/ethical problems involved with demanding employees and/or applicants turn over social media credentials. Think for a moment – if it is okay for a business to ask for those, what is to stop a business from asking for bank account passwords? For keys to your car? Your home? And if it is okay for a business to ask for that information, why shouldn’t an employee or applicant from asking for similar consideration? Why shouldn’t a person in that situation be able to demand unfettered access to the company’s financials?
Secondly, the business could be exposing itself to legal issues in the form of information that is legally mandated as private. For instance if an applicant discusses a health issue with a private group of friends on Facebook, the employer could be opening itself up to legal action under HIPPAA by demanding access to that. And if the applicant doesn’t get the job or an employee is terminated now the employer would need to prove that its actions were not done under consideration of that illegally gathered information.
Third, these employers are facing additional potential legal threats in the form of invading non-employee/non-applicant communications. If I’ve shared something personal with Joe, by what right does Joe’s employer have to look at that?
Finally, there are criminal complications. Facebook for instance has a policy that states it is an unauthorized use of the system to use someone else’s credentials. What this means for a business is that using a prospective employee’s credentials to login is not just frowned upon, it can wind the business up with criminal liability in the form of felony charges on federal level. Since the employee/applicant is not the owner of the system then he or she has no authority to grant access in that manner. Facebook is already making rumblings about using legal action : “We’ll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges. “
Beyond the legal and ethical considerations employers need to consider an additional complication – If employees and applicant know they are going to be forced to hand over this information what’s to stop them from having two or more profiles with one being business-like and one personal shared only to certain people? And if that personal profile/nom de plume is not the same as the professional one? Short-circuits the entire plan of the employer doesn’t it?