This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
Consider this scenario: You apply for a job. Your prospective employer shows up on your doorstep and tells you the only way you’ll be considered is if you let him go through the mail that comes to your home for the next month.
That mail might include medical information, revealing facts about your private life, even personal products that come “packaged for your privacy.” But you really want that job . . .
No employer would do that, of course, but according to some job seekers, a high-tech version of that is happening: They say employers and universities increasingly are demanding that applicants turn over their user names and passwords to such social media sites as Facebook to learn more about them. In response, some lawmakers plan to introduce legislation forbidding employers from seeking access to private Internet sites.
It’s hard to determine how much of this kind of snooping is really going on. While the practice is being reported as a growing trend, media blogger Jim Romenesko says there’s little evidence the practice is widespread and that it seems largely confined to in-depth police department and security company background checks.
While a case could be made for those employers and ones involved with national security to have access to their workers’ social media sites, for most jobs that doesn’t seem necessary. Especially when so much is readily available on the Internet without prying into applicants’ private sites. In fact, any prospective employer or school that isn’t routinely conducting Internet searches on applicants is missing a bet.
Has an applicant posted pictures of his drunken, drugged-out partying on a public social media page? Has the prospective vice president blogged unflattering information about her current employer? Did the local newspaper run an article about how the applicant for a position of trust was forced to resign when money went missing? Did that child-care applicant tweet sexually tinged comments that parents might find objectionable?
This is all information that a quick Internet search might turn up – without even asking for access to a private Facebook account. Any applicants who have published potentially damaging words or images on the Internet shouldn’t be surprised to find few employers interested in giving them a job or schools willing to risk that they’ve suddenly acquired maturity and good sense.
It’s a hard lesson to get through to young people that the Internet is forever. What they put on the Web – even information they think few will see – can get wide viewership for a very long time. And often it can easily be found by the very people who are in a position to affect their educational and employment future.