Let’s Get Personal: Employers Embrace Facebook - Facebookistan Week


Screenshot from the Facebook homepage.

Written by: Danielle Pittner

“It’s not personal, it’s strictly business,” Godfather character Michael Corleone tells his brother, Sonny. Even in the Mafia, as personal as businesses can get, there is still a boundary drawn between personal life and business life. Recently, that boundary line is almost erased by none other than Facebook.

Remember when potential bosses could only peruse your Facebook page to see if anything alarming or blatantly incriminating was posted? Remember being smart enough to update your privacy settings so that these potential bosses and other parties could see just enough information to deduce that you have friends, are interesting, and yet remain a little mysterious all the while? Well, now it seems mystery isn’t as intriguing, and privacy not as respected.

Several recent cases have been cited of employers requiring potential employees’ Facebook passwords to view individuals’ restricted profiles. To work for the city of Bozeman, Montana in June 2009, applicants were required to hand over their usernames and passwords to “any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc.” City employers claimed it was in the public’s best interest for them to conduct a complete and thorough background check.

In Maryland, a man who returned to work at the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services after a leave of absence was told he’d have to hand over his Facebook password before reinstatement.

Screenshot from the Facebook homepage.*

There, of course, has been backlash to these employers’ demands. The ACLU, Facebook’s own privacy officer, and the general public are all outraged that employers dare try to demand something as personal and private as a password. Thus far, Congress has rejected a bill that would have barred employers from demanding workers’ passwords for social networking sites. Certainly, a Facebook profile is public information posted on the internet, but does a privacy setting mean nothing?

George Lenard, a blogger and employment lawyer, points out two main reasons employers are aggressively investigating Facebook profiles. One being to search for worthy candidates based on education, work experience, personal interests. A second as a background check: proof of illegal activities or undesirable behavior that may be blatantly posted through pictures and posts.

On the positive side, if your employers do get a glimpse of your party pictures, it might not be such a bad thing. Researchers at Northeastern University, The University of Evansville, and Auburn University compared the correlations between personality traits and job success, which employers might look for when viewing a potential employee’s Facebook page. The study involved two students and a professor identifying specific personality traits from the Facebook pages of 56 employed students, questions such as: “Is this person dependable?”

Six months later, employee evaluations from the supervisors of the employed students were found to be consistent with the initial results. The researchers concluded that party photos might not necessarily be negatively received by employers who could interpret them as an indication that the individual is agreeable or sociable.

So party on! But, perhaps don’t post everything. You never know which employer will demand your username and password. Unless, of course, you want it to get personal.

Editor’s Note – April 26th, 2012, 2:42pm: For more, check out this recent episode of BTR’s Pulse asking New Yorkers how they feel about employers asking for passwords to their employees’ social media accounts:


*Screenshots copyright and trademarked by Facebook 2012.