Social Media Privacy Concerns

When the founding fathers of this nation penned the Constitution, there was no such thing as an e-mail, tweet or FaceBook post. They covered almost every area relevant to American life at that time, but had no way to foresee the privacy concerns brought about by social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, and the use of the internet as a whole. What if your prospective employer required you to turn over your Facebook password as a condition of employment? As a Human Resources graduate, I can immediately see all kinds of risks the employer would be taking by doing this:

  • This would have to be a rule for all incoming staff (theoretically) to avoid accusations of discrimination on any grounds.
  • Information stored within Facebook profiles goes far beyond the scope of a standard job application. It would be very easy to find something on a Facebook profile that is not relevant and should not be taken into consideration for a job. For instance, whether or not a woman is pregnant, how many children a person has, etc.
  • All kinds of EEOC violations..
However, in the absence of legislation on the topic, any law or ruling would be after an applicant has given over this information. Why would employers be interested in a persons Facebook profile information?
  • There have been many news stories about employee misconduct and violence forewarned on social media sites. 
  • Investigation purposes -- when an employee called in sick but posted about calling in for a long weekend; sexual harassment claims in the office; other important information that could be beneficial to minimizing risk in the work place and being aware of any external conflicts that affect the work environment. 
  • Bad PR for the company, false claims, etc.
Whichever side of the fence you are on, there are a few rules everyone should apply when using social networking sites:
  • Do not post anything you do not want the world to know. No matter how private your profile is, there are several ways someone can steal your online identity or get information from you without your knowledge:
    • Facebook photos can be shared and downloaded by anyone with access to your profile.
    • Facebook timeline events, photos, and posts can be shared across any of your friend's walls.
    • How do you know the person you just added is really that person? 
  • Do not share any controversial religious or political views that can be seen as radical or offensive. Yes, it is your social profile and you have the right to post what you like, but who ca see this information? 
  • Limit Check-in's and Geo-tagging posts. These functions may be cool but they are also telling anyone with access to your profile where you are and when you are there. It should be fine to post some information related to past photos, but real-time locations is just not safe.
  • Utilize the lists to group friends and share information accordingly. Now, you can easily segment your Facebook friends so that certain photos and posts are only visible to those you choose. You can even go back and limit past post visibility, and the audience of the post. 
  • Stay away from feuds and threatening posts. Even if you are not the author of such a post, your participation could be questioned. What if it can later be construed as cyber-bullying? This may sound extreme, but it has happened before.
There are many positive attributes to social networking but as with all things, should be used with care and caution. Do not assume everyone is a friend, and do not share anything that you would not mind later being questioned about. 

What rules do you use when using social networking sites? Do you think employers should be allowed access to employers social site passwords? If so, what limits / regulations should be placed on this activity?