Schools and Employers Demanding Access To Social Networking Profiles
In a practice that is sparking a First Amendment debate, some schools and employers are requiring access to students’/applicants’ Facebook and Twitter accounts.
To a lot of people, social media like Facebook and Twitter are a way to keep up with friends and a way to express themselves. But now they are being used as a way for to determine if you are eligible for a job. A few weeks ago it was reported that applicants at the Maryland Department of Corrections were asked to log on their accounts while the interviewer watched as the user ran through posts, pictures, or anything else that may not be accessible if the account is set to private. Previously, applicants were asked to divulge their username and password to the interviewer, but the practice was stopped after a complaint from the ACLU. Though the compliance with this is entirely voluntary, many applicants feel pressured to do so in order to better their chances at getting the job. Student athletes at some schools are being forced to “friend” their coach or another administrative member of the program, giving them access to “friend only” posts on the player’s account.
Social media and First Amendment experts have said that this is not only a violation of Free Speech rights, but also puts the institutions at a higher risk. If a businesses accesses an applicant’s account and the account shows them to be part of a protected group, such as homosexual, over a certain age, etc., the applicant can then make a case of discrimination if they do not get the job. As for schools, if schools monitor their students’ accounts and do not notice or take action when signs show a student becoming violent, the school may then be liable if the student hurts himself/herself and/or other students.
Facebook’s chief privacy officer on policy Erin Egan has recently spoken out against such practices, saying it undermines the user’s privacy, and Egan has also said that Facebook has changed its rules of use, making it a,
“violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password.”
Some lawmakers are also taking this subject to heart, looking to draft legislation to prohibit the use of social media access in the employment process. Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut is looking at legislation that prohibits the administering of a lie detector tests to applicants as a basis for a new law to incorporate social media access. Blumenthal also says that though the practice is said to be voluntary, there is a level or coercion present since to deny the request would negatively effect your chance at getting the job.
Should schools and businesses be allowed access to the private accounts of their students/employees? Many businesses already make their employees sign waivers saying they will not speak negatively of their employers online.