Some government agencies, such as the Maryland Department of Corrections, and universities are now asking applicants to log on to Facebook during an interview.
Viewing an applicant’s Facebook is regarded as an invasion of privacy by some and perfectly acceptable by others. Understanding the limits of Facebook is important to our social-networking-obsessed generation.
Governmental agencies and universities have begun to seek out potential employees via social media to view how they represent themselves on social-networking websites. The Maryland Department of Corrections actually eliminated seven applicants based on their Facebook profile. To employers, access to someone’s Facebook is like a version of a personality test, but more personal. Companies could weed out potentially dangerous applicants by assessing what they post online.
However, many people believe that someone’s online profile is completely private and personal, and therefore has no business in the interview process. On the other hand, people believe Facebook is a public forum and should be treated as such.
Yet, many fail to realize that what the average person posts on Facebook is not exactly diary entries. Diaries are discrete personal entries of one’s life as opposed to Facebook, which is there for any of your “friends” to see.
Even though Melissa Goemann of the Maryland ACLU argues that, “A person can treat it like a diary,” this is only feasible if your page is kept completely private to everyone except yourself.
One factor that makes social networking a little less public is changing your privacy settings. If you become completely private only your “friends” can see your page. However, Facebook privacy settings, for example, aren’t as easy to navigate as it may seem. To manage your privacy on Facebook, you will need to navigate through 50 settings with more than 170 options, the New York Times reported in “Facebook Privacy: A Beweildering Tangle of Options.”
In addition, Facebook’s privacy statements in 2005 contained a word count of 1,004 words, whereas in 2010 its word count increased to 5,830 words. So if you think you have Facebook’s privacy settings figured out, think again.
Realistically, even if your page is private to only friends chances are they are just as impersonal as if an employee were to view your account. According to the Economist, the average person has 120 friends on Facebook. On average, men only communicate with seven of those friends, while women with 10. This means that there are about 110 of your Facebook friends who you do not even talk to. These tend to be your extended family, people you met once at a party and your ex that you may occasionally stalk.
Now imagine you are in a room with all of your Facebook friends and you are given a microphone, and whatever you said would be the same as a status update. That doesn’t exactly seem very private. If we were to relate Facebook to an offline setting it would be less of a small coffee date with close friends and more of a house party with many vaguely familiar faces. The privacy setting of “friends only” is not private anymore. How you act in such a large group of people would be public enough that future employers would want to know this about you.
Facebook, despite appearing personal, has become so large that it is now a public forum. When applying for any opportunity you should be aware that your public behavior will be a factor. Facebook is now an easy way for companies to view this behavior. Making sure pictures from parties and statuses bad mouthing authority are not on your page is the first step in creating a clean public image for yourself. Just remember next time you post a status that every random person you have ever added could read it and that includes employers.
Coryandar Gilvary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.