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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Employers and Facebook

There's a new lawsuit going on over in England regarding whether or not business employers can investigate potential employees via their Facebook or other "social networking site" webpage.

Before you pick a side or finish hearing the story or my opinion - take a minute to think about your social networking sites (if you have any). What is on your Facebook profile that you would be okay with showing to an employer you're trying to get hired by? What is on your Facebook profile that you wouldn't want your potential new boss seeing? What's on there that you don't even want your family seeing? And we're not just talking about your basic profile information - we're talking about all of the comments left on your page by your friends, whether you think they're appropriate or not for any situation.

Let's continue, shall we?

A coalition including the NSPCC, the Children's Society and the NCH want a new law to prevent employers and colleges searching the internet for "digital dirt" on potential recruits.

Studies show one in five employers use the internet to check out candidates and two thirds of those admit their final decision has been influenced by what they found.

Checking networking sites is also common practice for recruitment agencies with research showing more than 60 per cent of British executives are signed up to Facebook or similar.

The children's charities argue that this is akin to nosing through someone's diary and is examining whether existing discrimination laws could be used to prevent the practice.


Now I'm not entirely sure about their argument that looking at networking site information is the same as reading a diary. In my experience, a diary is personal thoughts for yourself only, which is why you hide it under a mattress or beat up a sibling who discovers its secret location. Social networking sites aren't really meant to be solo experiences. And even if you DO use one for such an experience, there are plenty of filters and privacy settings arranged for most social networking sites so you can keep private thoughts private.

Of course, these filters are rarely used by the less-web-savvy users.

John Carr, secretary of the Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety which is co-ordinating the campaign, said pictures and gossip posted while someone is a teenager should not be used against them years later.

Once again, I'm not in agreement with the argument. Just because there is no foresight about what is being done, that doesn't entitle them to complain when it rears its ugly head down the road. Everything we do is who we are - and while we can certainly attempt to change, we cannot deny our history. How many times can you recall a news story featuring a celebrity (major or minor) who became aghast to discover that old gossip or even photos or video of themselves had been dug up and gotten them into trouble?

The law currently enforces equal opportunities in recruitment and a system that searches social network sites could be unfair because some candidates will have profiles and others will not.

Here's where a real argument lies. It's discrimination to base a hiring decision on a piece of information that doesn't exist for all candidates. I have a Facebook profile, another potential hire might not. But they might have a MySpace page, whereas I do not.

Is each networking site off-limits because of potential discrimination?
Does the balance of each of us having a site mean there's no discrimination?


One could make the argument that both of us have a NAME, so there's no discrimination if an employer uses Google or another search tool to look up information just based on our name - but is a social networking page result equal footing because it was found in an equal-opportunity manner, or does it fall directly under this "not everyone has one" idea of discrimination?

It's a very gray area, and while it might deserve the scrutiny of a lawsuit to make the issue known and get people talking about it - it runs the risk of a decision being made that unfairly benefits one side or the other.

So far, one idea being thrown around is the notion of a "time limit" for surfing these gray-area websites.

Do you have any ideas? What do you think? Discrimination or not?

(The full article)


1 comment:

Kuroloki Roku said...

What?? That's absurd. Social networking sites are a personal matter. I don't see any doubt about that. That's like somebody poking into your household life to see if you'd be any good at conducting business. People have different personas for different aspects of their lives.

Granted, I gear my facebook more towards the general public and companies anyway, since that's what I originally thought it was for. But the people who post comments and images on my facebook obviously don't see it the same way. It would be totally unfair for an employer to decide what kind of worker I am based on some retarded comment someone left for me.

Then again, that article is from the U.K., not here. There is probably no need for us to complain yet.