How to keep your public life private (wait, what?)
By Jeff Walling
If you’ve been reading the news or even crawling only a little way out from under your rock you should know that there is a phenomenon sweeping the employing nation. Potential employers are requesting that employment candidates reveal their Facebook user names and, should their Facebook accounts be secured, the passwords to those accounts. This isn’t new, but it’s news and that’s probably only because people complained about it. Those complaints got the attention of lawmakers and state representatives, so bully for the protesting masses.
The Veterans Program Blog has already covered this topic and pretty darn well, in my opinion (granted as a Vet I may be slightly biased). I’d like to build on what they posted and expand on it from a different perspective. Multiple sources of advice have always served me well, and I’m hoping that the same holds true for you.
In my opinion, your Facebook account should be password protected. I would also recommend that you keep your privacy settings on the highest available and encourage all of your Facebooking (new verb?) friends and family and people that you don’t know who “like” you and follow you on Twitter, Foursquare, Gowalla, and Instagram to do the same. (I probably missed a few, you get the idea).
All of this security may seem like overkill, but I believe that you should focus on security so that you can become security minded. Security-minded people understand risk and threat. These people also understand the importance of protecting intellectual property and proprietary information. I have yet to work for a company that did not embrace these ideas and “encourage” their employees to do the same (read “require through contract” on that one).
Another standard that all of my employers have held to is that of a zero-tolerance for fraternization. No subordinate was to cozy up socially with a senior member of the staff. What that means to the layperson is that managers and associates should not be out together at bars, at parties, or in general. I’m not talking about romantic engagement exclusively. I’m referring to “hanging out” socially. No movies, no lunches, no nothing. You get the idea.
Managers and associates at my various jobs were also told to keep their social lives compartmented from their work lives and from each other. One company in particular that I worked for prohibited any mention of itself in social networking forums, to include identifying oneself as an employee and discussing work at all. This could only be enforced by constant monitoring of each employee’s social accounts, which makes me a tad uneasy, to say the least.
If you are in a working environment that does not consider this level of fraternization taboo, there are other factors to consider regarding socializing with co-workers. The impressions your coworkers have about your level of success could be directly proportionate to the amount that you interact socially with your managers. In other words, it is safer to compartmentalize your professional and personal lives so that you are not judged inaccurately by your peers. This could easily translate to a co-worker getting the wrong idea about your recent promotion if they see that you and the entire management staff are highly active with each other on Facebook or another social site.
Based on what we know now, employers hold the protection of intellectual property above all else and require that their employees do the same. With this being true, why on earth would a job candidate be considered qualified if they are willing to divulge the username and password (re-used password, that accesses every other account they have, like banking, email, etc.) to their personal, private Facebook account?
The follow-up question is, if employers discourage or prohibit fraternization, then why would they demand that their employees “friend” and “follow” the company’s HR reps?
These practices seem to directly contradict corporate policy and procedure. The employers requesting these actions are hypocritically circumventing their own security under the guise of screening and vetting.
If that doesn’t change your mind, consider that coughing up the password to your account tells an interviewer, whom you don’t know socially or otherwise, everything about you and your “friends” on Facebook. Think about the questions that person cannot ask you, legally, that are answered on your Facebook page.
Your personal life is personal and should be kept that way. These interviewers do not have the need to know any of this, nor do they have the right to this information.
Interviewers are strangers to you. You have no idea who they are or what they are about. You don’t know if the company they work for has security measures in place to wipe your passwords from their systems once entered, to clear browser caches once closed, or to prevent these people from recording every Facebook user name and password they acquire.
One way to avoid allowing them to bookmark your face(book page) is by responding to these requests for access by stating that you are willing to undergo a background investigation and drug screening should the interviewer wish to provide you with an offer for employment.
Another angle is to illustrate that you would hold the company’s policies, procedures, and information in the highest regard if offered a job. You could say that this can be illustrated by the way that you will politely refuse to divulge access to a secure, private social account.
When it comes down to it, Facebook and other social networking sites only divulge what you allow them to. Posting your life and location on social media sites every minute of every day is your prerogative. What you choose to share of those posts with perfect strangers is as well. Your candidacy for a job should come down to your professional abilities, not the personal and private lives of you, your friends, and your families. One of the greatest literary minds of our times summed it up better than I ever could, so I’ll leave you with the words of J.R.R. Tolkien.
“Keep it secret. Keep it safe.”
Tell us your thoughts in the comments section!
Jeff Walling is a senior at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. Jeff is an avid social engineer, expert salesman, grand master-badger wrangler, and a snowboarding enthusiast. You can’t fact-check Jeff’s background because he doesn’t subscribe to social networking sites but he thinks that in this case, it is more fun to guess anyway.
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