• Alex Davies
  • 22 March 2012

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How well do you protect your social media passwords? And what would you do if your employer asked you for them?

Two US States – Maryland and Illinois – have recently proposed legislation to ban the practice of employers and agencies demanding prospective candidates’ social media log in details. It seems employers are going to increasingly great lengths to vet the candidates they receive for jobs, and in a squeezed jobs market, employees are having to give up more rights to their privacy in order to get a foot in the door.

The case that inspired the legislation was that of Robert Collins, a correctional officer at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. After taking leave following the death of his mother, Collins was asked for his Facebook log in details, so his employers could check for ‘gang affiliations’.

After the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) complained about the practice, the agency amended its policy, asking instead for job applicants to log in during interviews. But isn’t this just as invasive? Justin Basset, a New York City statistician, was asked for just that in a recent interview, and refused, saying he didn’t actually want to work for a company that invaded its employees’ privacy so harshly. But what if it’s a case of comply, or stay unemployed? Where does the line get drawn between what’s private and what’s potentially an employer’s concern?

We’ve all had that moment when, just before posting a funny photo or frustrated comment, we’ve paused and thought “Who might see this?” Will my boss find it funny that I’m scaled halfway up a lamp post in a tutu? Should I really mention that I’m hungover and in bed when I’ve just called in sick?* So we tailor our social media profiles accordingly, and don’t let those who we are not close friends with access our personal information. But if it becomes increasingly acceptable for employers to demand full access to our personal information – photos, wall posts, even private messages – what will that mean for our private lives? Checking for ‘gang affiliations’ is all very well, but it means nothing is sacred.

Of course, this case is US-based, and as such should be taken with a pinch of salt. Added to this recent research in the UK that maintains two-thirds of HR managers don’t believe social networking sites provide as much relevant information as a CV when screening staff, and you’ve got a fairly conclusive argument that social media will remain for its designated purpose – our social, i.e. private lives. But as the lines continue to blur, it’s something to watch out for.  As someone once said “On Facebook you lie to your friends, on Twitter you’re honest with strangers”. If at the back of our mind we know that the HR Manager has our log-ins and passwords, will we have anything left to say?



*Obviously these are fictional examples to illustrate a point and should not be construed as scenarios from my own life. I do not own a tutu.