Friday, May 21, 2010

Why would an employer deny a job on one Facebook image holding a cordial

We hear stories about people not getting jobs, school acceptance, or even internships because of a single or very few risqué Facebook or other social networking compromising photos (involving, for example, underage drinking or marijuana use) sometimes taken and posted by others, perhaps even with the person misidentified (which is surprisingly easy to happen, and gives business to online reputation defense companies). Recently, I mentioned here a person not allowed teaching credentials by a small college because of a single Facebook picture that seemed to show her drinking.

It may not be practical to try to regulate the employment standards of a private business (libertarians don’t want to, of course) but it’s a good question, why would an employer make so much of minor indiscretions visible online? Isn’t this just over the top?

Perhaps some employers or schools doing this are committed to the belief that, like it or not, you belong to a community. (You wouldn’t use social media if you didn’t.)

Now, my own Facebook wall looks pretty mainstream – some controversial stuff – but mostly within what mainstream America sees as acceptable. I wouldn’t worry about it. But I suppose if my job was to represent some company publicly by selling insurance, for example, maybe it could drive away some customers. Moreover, even though I think I know what I’m doing, there can be other people connected to me in a community who are more vulnerable. I think that when some employers or schools want to make so much of “gratuitous” presence online, they want to make a point that some day you (or I) may be responsible for others through them.

So, some employers do seem to be taking the position that social media should be monitored as evidence of social conformity. Imagine the links in the military to “don’t ask don’t tell.”

The privacy issues for Facebook and other social networking sites (already covered this week here) get to be more serious, perhaps, because of the community context. Probably, 99.9% of the time, it doesn’t hurt me if some marketing companies have some personal information that leaked out, because I’m pretty able to monitor my credit and reputation. But what about others connected to me? The ethical issues under the privacy debate get murky indeed. But Facebook isn’t responsible for all of society’s other problems that make privacy such a big issue potentially and sometimes unpredictably. Facebook and similar media are showing us more about the problems that we do have.

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