A Good Employer Won’t Ask to Peek at Your Privates

I loved this juicy parable about a manager dealing with the repercussions of an “open yer Facebook” hiring policy. So did a lot of other people: The post got 500K+ hits soon after its author published it, thanks to Reddit. At least some of those readers took it to be real, including me before I took a close look at it – a testament to multitasking’s marijuana-level IQ-effect. (Too bad he didn’t post it on April Fool’s Day. I’d guess that the people who on April 2 felt duped would have given the guy props for a clever prank had he put it up a day earlier.)

The idea of companies asking job applicants to show their (Facebook) privates is horrifying, yes. But is it really happening? In all the reporting, I’ve only seen a couple of documented cases – this recent statistician in Seattle and last year, a Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services employee (his story can be found at that same link). I guess it’s not that hard to imagine hand-wringing, ham-fisted HR folks sending out FB requests – still, I’d like to see numbers before I’m going to really worry that this is becoming common practice. Personally, as someone who hires staff, I would never ask for FB access. (I am friends on FB with employees, but when they’re my friends, and not before.)

Here’s my advice. If an interviewer asks you if he or she can shoulder surf, or if an HR rep who’s not yet your real-life friend sends a request, politely decline – unless it’s already your practice to share your private FB with people who you don’t know. But even then, beware: If company leadership isn’t willing to risk trusting a new employee to conduct his private life appropriately, chances are they’re not going to respect the rules of good relationships down the road, either.

No matter how good the job may seem on paper, having the courage to say “no” to unwarranted intrusions on your privacy will save you from a lot of strife.

What do you think: Would you say no? Should you say no?

Comments (5)

  1. I think this story has been blown out of proportion…a Snopes entry in the making. I live in MD and can shed light on that case…it comes on the heels of a massive federal investigation into the Black Guerilla Family prison gang, which is well-known to use FB and such tools to coordinate activity and get outside assistance. More generally, my partner the tenured criminologist says the use of social networking tools to do this is only natural, as prison gangs have long relied on friends, relatives, and corrections staff to move contraband, deal with funds, etc. So I think there is ample justification for what MD did (especially given that the probe found massive corruption). I really don’t know if this is so much of an issue elsewhere though.

  2. Paul: I’m currently out of work. And I don’t see this as a belief system; for me, this is about values. Kristen states my position perfectly and I saw ditto. Consequently, I would not accept a job offer from a company with an “open your Facebook policy.”

    Accordingly, if a company implemented such a policy, I would refuse and begin a job search for a new employer.

    By the way, I don’t have a Facebook account. But that doesn’t change my position; I wouldn’t work for a company that made such a request of job candidates or employees.

  3. In answering this question please indicate if you are currently out of work or comfortably in a secure job. My guess is that this will provide interesting results. It might be a little harder to be ideological if you just took the last dollar out of your 401k plan to make your mortgage. Maybe a second question should be “would you quit if your employer suddenly made this a requirement?”

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  5. I would absolutely say no – and everyone should. A company (or manager) who has that little disregard for my privacy and the value of my personal life is not someone I want to work with.

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