Facebook and Your Employer

Sometimes I worry that important events are going on around me and there is no way for me to weed through all the unimportant media noise to get to it.  The local TV news is embarrassingly bad.  Newspapers have become irrelevant.  The internet has the real news if you know where to look and don’t get distracted.  I am easily distracted.

So it shouldn’t come as any surprise when I read a news story about a law which will prevent an activity I didn’t even know existed.  I just read that a new law is going into effect in five states that will prevent employers from requiring employees or job applicants to provide their personal social media passwords.  What?!!  This was a real thing that companies could do?  I am angry on many levels:

  • How is this not a direct violation of one’s privacy?
  • What pompous executives think this is not a rights violation in this day and age?
  • Why did a specific law need to be written to protect our privacy on social media?
  • What rock have I been living under that I didn’t know this was a real thing?

As I understand it, employers believe your presence on social media is a direct extension of you.  For a job applicant, they feel they can have access to your social media accounts as part of the background checks they perform.  For existing employees, they want to keep tabs on your social media accounts to make sure you aren’t breaking any of the rules in your employment contract.  All of this makes sense if you live in a society where enterprise and government rule the individual.  However, the United States was built on a different set of principles that these policy makers can’t seem to understand.

I challenge these policy makers to look at the supposed problem in a different way.  How would they feel if the tables were turned and we had access to their accounts?  I know… you will find a few who will proudly say, “If you have nothing to hide, then why won’t you give me the passwords?”  My reply is that if I tell you it is my personal information and I am not willing to share with you, the laws of this country protect me and compel you to treat me as you would any other candidate or employee.  What I do in my personal life is of no concern to you unless it directly affects your business.  Your job application has questions like, “Do you have a criminal record?”  and “Have you taken illegal drugs before?”  How about adding another one like, “Do you engage in any social media activity that could be detrimental to our company’s business?”  That should suffice.

Only five states will see the law go into effect in 2013.  That’s means it is still legal in many other states.  Social media is an animal that much of our government is just beginning to understand.  I’m guessing they just didn’t know how to apply existing rights that individuals have to new technology.  Common sense should have prevailed.  Just as I own my personal information such as my bank accounts, my credit card numbers, and my stock portfolio, I also own my social media accounts.  One may argue that social media information can be shared with hundreds and thousands of others and that a company is just looking out for itself by looking over the shoulder of the user.  Sounds like these companies are acting like Big Brother to me.

Social media is the way the young technologist communicates.  It is foreign to the old guard including myself, but I’m willing to learn.  What worries me is that with each new technology change, our world has to adapt.  Information flow and how it applies to business and government must be constantly reviewed so that laws like this do not have to be written and passed.

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