How employers look at MySpace and Facebook pages
Since the advent of the personal computer and the Internet, we have been enjoying the perks of "The Information Age." However, with the prevalence of blogs, RSS feeds, YouTube, and online social networks, many would argue we live in the TMI era, "The Too-Much-Information Age."
Services like MySpace and Facebook enable users to post an overwhelming array of personal information on websites, creating a public record of things like one's spring break photos, the video of a friend's birthday, etc. This information then becomes potentially available to anyone, including employers.
Why, you ask, would my boss or anyone interested in hiring me, look at my MySpace or Facebook page?
According to George Lenard, a blogger and employment lawyer, social networking sites can serve companies in two primary functions:
1) Identifying potential job candidates. Employers may use these social electronic databases to search for individuals with a certain level of education, work experience, personal interests, and/or anything else that might be a company asset.
2) Background checking, where "disqualifying information" may be available, such as proof of illegal drug use or behavior the company would consider undesirable in an employee.
In short, employers want to find out all they can about who's working for their company, and as the needed personal information is already publicly available, so much the better. It's also legal, because on the Internet, you have a lower "expectation of privacy." In other words, what one posts online is not as private as, say, a home telephone conversation. For an employer to view pictures on Facebook or MySpace of you at a frat party does not constitute an invasion of privacy since that information is available to the public.
No, it's not available to the public, you argue, only to my Facebook and MySpace "friends..." Be careful.
In an interview for ZDNet, Lenard described a scenario in which some workers were fired for "reprehensible" Facebook content. Although they intended said data to be viewed on their "friends-only" profile, the URL history of the company-owned computers acted as a digital trail of breadcrumbs. Moreover, one of the company managers was a friend of the poster, and thus had legitimate access to the profile.
"It seems the privacy controls do provide a legal basis for ‘reasonable expectation of privacy' claims, but as a practical matter there may be fairly simple ways of getting around them," says Lenard.
One example he cites is a situation where employers use a computer that has the MySpace or Facebook log-in information already saved or "memorized." Several Web browsers, like Opera and Mozilla Firefox, automatically offer this convenient service to users, which of course allows for easy access. I can recall numerous times when I've logged-in and found that some mischievous friend has managed to post something under my name, which I would not want others to see.
Another important detail to remember when using Facebook or MySpace is that current employees waive many of their privacy expectations when using their employer's computer systems, especially after being informed that their online activities can be monitored.
So, what can you do to make sure that current and future employers don't see anything you don't want them to? The answer is surprisingly simple: Don't post it.
Think, instead, of your site as a way to showcase your singular talents and those qualities that would make you a stellar candidate for the job. In this way, you can still increase you visibility without risking any undue exposure.
Finally, Lenard also has the following advice for companies browsing the popular social networks: "You were once young too and maybe did similar things -- if not publicly on the Internet. Consider the whole person, of whom the Internet persona is not always a fully accurate reflection."
After all, on Facebook, yours truly is a pirate and a very successful vampire... but I still work for Hubpages.