When Facebook first became popular, the advice for users of the social network who were seeking employment was to lock down their privacy settings so that prospective employers could not see their profiles. However, it is becoming increasingly common for employers to ask job applicants to provide their login information or to invite the applicant to log in to Facebook during the interview so that they can review the applicant’s Facebook page as part of the interview process.
In one instance, Justin Bassett of New York City was interviewing for a job when the interviewer turned to a computer and began to search for his Facebook profile. When his profile turned out to be private, the interviewer asked him for his login information. Basset refused to turn over this information and subsequently withdrew his application from the position. Robert Collins of Baltimore, Maryland received a similar request during an interview but felt that denying access may hurt his chances at attaining a job that he needed in order to support his family.
As this practice becomes a more frequent occurrence for job seekers, legislators and civil rights groups are questioning its legality. Legislation is currently being proposed in both Illinois and in Maryland that would make it illegal for public agencies to ask for access to Facebook and other social media accounts.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has spoken out against employers who ask applicants for Facebook passwords. ACLU attorney Catherine Crump decried the practice, stating:
It’s an invasion of privacy for private employers to insist on looking at people’s private Facebook pages as a condition of employment or consideration in an application process. People are entitled to their private lives. You’d be appalled if your employer insisted on opening up your postal mail to see if there was anything of interest inside. It’s equally out of bounds for an employer to go on a fishing expedition through a person’s private social media account.
Some employers argue that potential employees should have nothing to hide and that this practice is merely an effort to weed out the bad apples before offering them a position. Others argue that opening up one’s Facebook profile provides far too much information to employers, potentially providing ammunition for illegal discrimination. Facebook profiles frequently contain personal information including age, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, marital status, political leanings and other characteristics that employers are legally prohibited from asking about. Therefore, encouraging an applicant to provide login information may allow the employer to illegally discriminate when making a hiring decision.
Although companies may insist that they are simply asking the applicant to volunteer such information, others view the request as a form of coercion. Due to the nature of job seeking, a power imbalance exists between the company and the job seeker. A person who is in desperate need for a job may not feel that they can afford to say no to the request for a password.
If an employer asks you to provide your Facebook login, here are some tips to avoid giving them access to your profile: