Guest column: Private Facebook profiles won’t prevent employers from taking a peek

Nishat Khan

Sometime last year I started noticing that some of my Facebook friends were renaming themselves: Amanda to Amanda Rose, Michael Richards was now Richard Michael.

I didn’t think too much of it at first; I kind of just assumed it was the latest trend in Facebook styling (similar to Picnik albums and cover photos). I realized soon enough that the two-part names were to protect people’s pages from future employers.

Facebook has really evolved to be, in many cases, a resume for our personal life (What are your interests? Favorite movies? Are you in a relationship? Are you gay?), and companies have started taking advantage of that by digging around for all of the above. (Well maybe they don’t care about your favorite movies.) Any social networking site seems to be fair game when employers are looking for dirt. That includes Facebook, Twitter, Linkedln, MySpace, LiveJournal — the list could go on.

We’ve long understood that we should keep our social networking profiles under wraps or risk some uncomfortable conversations during interviews (What is Unofficial? And why do you look like that?).

You would think it would be enough keeping a limited or private profile.

But guess what? Employers may just ask you to log in to your Facebook during your interview.

What then? You thought you were being clever by being unsearchable or hiding all your photos, but you can’t hide from your own home page.

Just over a year ago, people applying to jobs at the Maryland Department of Corrections were asked for their log in information prior to the interview. After the American Civil Liberties Union got involved, that was quickly stopped.

Still, employers may not require you to log in, but they can ask you if you would do it voluntarily. Choosing not to might reflect poorly on you. Melissa Coretz Goemann of the ACLU says that virtually all applicants agree to it out of a desire to score well in the interview.

The fact they can coerce you into showing your profile is a direct invasion of privacy.

Goemann said browsing someone’s Facebook could be comparable to reading their diary. It’s sort of like rummaging through their personal belongings. Washington, D.C., lawyer Bradley Shear, who practices in social media law, likens it to spying on people.

People are smart enough to keep their Facebook profiles private especially prior to job interviews. Is ambushing interviewees by asking them to show their news feed and recently tagged photos really a good way to get at their character?

Moreover, do we really want to be working for companies that are that concerned with our private lives? If they are willing to scrutinize your Facebook profile, what kind of privacy policy might they have if you get the job?

Facebook, Myspace and Twitter are all mediums of social networking, and they’re largely used in our own personal context and are not meant to be shared with our employers.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the information we share through these sites makes us unfit for the job.

Also, our Facebook isn’t always an accurate reflection of who we are or what we like.

For some people, a lot of the information on their Facebook is dated. For example, you might still be in groups like “Pokemon, gotta catch ‘em all!” Not saying you shouldn’t be proud of a Pokemon interest even in college, but it might not be a group you want to be associated with anymore..

There are also pages on Facebook someone might “like” on a conditional basis, maybe to enter into a free sweepstakes or in support of a friend. That might not mean they actually like those things, but employers might think they do.

Employers want to make sure that someone is the right candidate in most situations, but there’s a fine line between assessing someone’s credentials and clicking through their mobile uploads album while they’re sitting right next to you.

Daily Illini, U. Illinois via UWIRE