Keep your hands off my Facebook

Employers should respect the difference between one’s work life and personal life.

Trent M. Kays

Facebook has long gotten people into trouble. Politicians, teachers, students and others have been among those to post troublesome information to the social networking site. When such issues arise, the reactions have been as varied as the offenses. It was just a few years ago the director of MI6, the British intelligence service, was caught with scandalous photos and personal information on Facebook. While his wife posted the photos and information, the damage was done. It served as a stark example of someone with a prominent job exercising poor judgment, even though he didn’t actually post any sensitive information personally.

The example of the MI6 director, while an extreme one given his position, is another incident giving credence to employers’ requests for Facebook account access when hiring new employees. This practice even extends to employed individuals. Recently, a Michigan teacher’s aide was forced into unpaid leave for not granting her school district access to her Facebook account. These events have prompted Facebook to release a statement indicating that under no circumstances should Facebook users give their access information over to anyone, employers or otherwise.

Is this what has become of social networking? People aren’t even allowed to relax and have a personal social space to interact with friends and family. Indeed, this appears to be an issue of guilt by association: If an employee shows up in a photo drinking a beer, then it must reflect badly on his or her employer. Unfortunately, this line of logic barely holds up to scrutiny. People are allowed to have personal lives.

At the root of these requests placed on potential and current employees is a fundamental lack of digital literacy. Employers seem to be OK with requesting access to employees’ social networking activities, erasing any semblance of a boundary between work and home lives. It is perfectly plausible that employers would want to protect their image; it may be crucial to their success. But the protection of that image should not come at the cost of the rights of employees to enjoy life outside of work.

There was a time when passwords were safeguarded to the extreme and considered something above the inquiry of most people — even immediate family. However, the feelings regarding passwords, mostly prompted by social networking, are changing. It’s not changing among users; it’s changing among employers. Employers increasingly want to control what happens outside of their company as well as inside of their company.

The problem is two-fold. First, a company shouldn’t ask for access to any future or current employees’ social networking space, and second, an employee shouldn’t be doing such crazy stuff prompting a company to ask for access to his or her social networking space. Both are issues of digital literacy. Most certainly what one does on their Facebook is their own business; however, given the long shelf life of items on the Internet, it is better to be conscious of what is posted.

People, particularly students, need to be taught about how to navigate between different technologies and understand the risk of posting information. However, employers need to be taught the distinction between work life and home life. Employees are adults, and they should be treated as adults and have their privacy respected. The digital aspect of life does not negate the ability to have private experiences outside of a work environment.

As students prepare to and begin searching for jobs, it’s imperative that they understand their rights. They should never give out access to their social networking spaces in order to appease a potential employer. When an employer asks for such information, it shows a lack of respect for the potential employee and current employees. Moreover, when a potential employee refuses to grant employers access to their social networking spaces, it doesn’t signify a lack of respect; it signifies cautiousness about privacy and willingness to maintain a separate work life and home life.

When an employer requests access, potential employees should always politely decline and explain their reasons. This is especially important for students on the job search: Do not be bullied into giving over access to your social networking spaces. The best you can do is politely say “no” and explain why, but you should never succumb to bullying. If your potential employer is willing to bully you over social networking access, then it’s probably not an employer you want to work for.

This can be a hard issue to confront. As students search for jobs, they may be tempted to give over social networking access to companies they really want to work for; however, it’s imperative students do not give over such information. This is a trend that should not be encouraged in any way. It should be discouraged and fought.

Thankfully, some are fighting for the rights of users. Despite being struck down, an amendment was recently introduced in Congress that would make it illegal for employers to request password-protected information from potential and current employees. So, this issue is on Congress’ radar, and, as mentioned before, even Facebook is against the practice, threatening lawsuits against employers who require such information from their users.

We can be excellent employees, conscious producers, consumers of information and have lives outside of the workplace.


Trent Kays welcomes comments at [email protected].