Opinions — May 1, 2012 at 6:03 am

Facebook privacy and your professional life

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Courtesy of cleancutmedia.com

The question of whether or not employers should be able to demand access to information on the private profiles employees create for themselves on Facebook has become an increasingly important issue for our technology-centered and highly competitive generation.

A teacher’s aide in Michigan named Kimberly Hester was recently fired for a photo she posted on her Facebook. In the photo, Hester posed with her co-worker’s pants around her ankles, humorously titling the caption, “Thinking of you.” Once this photo caught the attention of one student’s parent, action was taken against her, causing school officials to react. Hester, who refused demands from the officials to give them the password to her account, was fired on this basis: “In the absence of you voluntarily granting Lewis Cass ISD administration access to you[r] Facebook page, we will assume the worst and act accordingly.”

Assume the worst—this is actually pretty accurate, given the fact that most of the information on an individual’s profile can be interpreted and judged in many unique ways by many different people. Unfortunately, while evaluating an employee’s profile, it is inevitable that an employer will scan it with a type of confirmation bias—that is, subconsciously looking for any red flags and clues to confirm an unfitting candidate. By now, anyone, no matter how young, with even the slightest interest in a professional and stable career has learned that online reputation is everything. And if Facebook opens up the possibility for other people to assume potential inadequacies about another person’s reputation, then it seems only fair to argue that Facebook is inextricably linked to a person’s career path.

However, there is a moral dilemma about whether or not employers should be able to access employees’ private information by obtaining their passwords or even make it a formal requirement for employees to be friends with them on Facebook. After all, an individual can choose to make certain information private and other information public on his or her Facebook profile. This gives one the power to project a certain positive image of oneself while simultaneously eliminating the appearance of any bad quirks. For example, the unspoken rule is to use the picture of yourself wherein you are the most attractive and are having a great time surrounded by great friends in your great, wholesome life as your profile picture—not the one where you are captured lying facedown on the floor, completely obliterated and intoxicated beyond reason or control.

However, in reality, the second scenario happens—a lot. And who is to say that some of our society’s best and most trusted entrepreneurs and geniuses have never behaved badly in their lives? Which leads to the next question of whether or not that occasional bad behavior even has anything to do with a person’s work ethic, intelligence, responsibility, creativity or contribution to a company. The only difference is whether or not that unpleasant moment is captured in a still frame and shared on the Internet, or if it remains safe in the confines of memory. So really, shameful pieces of so-called evidence of bad behavior on Facebook are just coincidental glimpses into an individual’s personal life.

A Facebook profile is not a 100 percent accurate representation of a person’s abilities or lack thereof. The fascination with the notion of one’s “15 minutes of fame” in popular American culture combined with Facebook’s powerful tools give every individual a chance to create a virtual shrine to him or herself. This is why glorifying signs as well as incriminating signs of a person’s eligibility as a good employee on Facebook are both total illusions.

To demand access to these illusions and use them to determine whether or not an individual deserves any further opportunity for advancement is absurd, not to mention unfair. The clearest indicators of an employee’s motivations and skill sets will surface in the workplace, not a Facebook profile.

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