There were  two disturbing stories in the press today, both of which involve Facebook and how others use your data.  The first was in Forbes, and asks What Employers Are Thinking When They Look At Your Facebook Page.  Many people who looked at that story were amazed to learn that employers were looking at their Facebook pages at all, and even more amazed to learn they use the information in hiring decisions.  Potential employers are looking at your Facebook page to decide what type of person you are and whether you would fit into the culture of their organization.  According to the article, potential employers will look at the page, including photos, posts, status updates, conversations, causes and games and rate individuals on their levels of extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to new experiences.   As I look at postings, I ask what potential employers learn when someone posts every time he or she has a spat with a significant other, says unpleasant things about sports teams, spends significant time playing games, spells poorly, uses bad grammar or slang, and/or has many negative conversations.  If you look at your postings, are you the type of person with whom you would like to work?

I agree that you can learn many things about a person by reading their Facebook page and it might just provide insights into whether the person will be successful at certain companies.  However, what I fear is all that information taken out of context.  I remember when I first started teaching students how to design web pages and one of my students provided a link to “Bare Naked Ladies.”  I was taken aback until I realized that it was a band.   Today I frequently am confused with posts that refer to music I have never heard or television shows I do not watch.  I have committed more than a few faux pas commenting when I thought I understood the context, but was totally wrong.  While I try hard to think about context, I have found myself misunderstanding the meaning of posts by good friends and even my son.  The key here is that Itry to think about context before making an opinion …. what are the odds that overworked HR staff will cut the applicants the same slack?

This article was troubling enough until I read Govt. agencies, colleges demand applicants’ Facebook passwords.  Yes, you read that correctly, demand passwords, and access to all of the postings on one’s Facebook page.  Thanks to the ACLU, they do not get the passwords, but now expect people to log in and allow the interviewer to watch as they click on every link, photo, conversation, etc.  Campus athletes too must provide administrators access to their social networking sites  and allow them to monitor what is said to ensure the athletes are not saying negative things about the program.  What is next?  Will the bank administrator demand to see what I tweet and post before deciding on giving me a mortgage?  Will the government decide whether or not I am an undesirable by looking at my Facebook posts?

For the record here, I will note that personally I leave most of my posts open on Facebook because I post items that I want people to share, such as about this article. Hence I am not bringing this to your attention because I am concerned about what people will think of me.  Instead, I am bringing it to your attention for two reasons.  First, everyone needs to take responsibility for what is on his or her social networking sites and what is visible.  If you have things you do not want a prospective employer or college recruiter to see, then make sure your security settings prohibit them from seeing that material.   Put yourself in their place and see if the image you get is what you want them to have, and adjust your settings, friends and postings accordingly.

Second, I am posting this because I think we have lost the line between due diligence and invasion of privacy.  The post-9/11 world has brought increasing invasions of our privacy because we have let it happen.  If we are going to give up the right of privacy as a society, I think we should do it consciously.  The fact that information is in digital form does not make it any less private.  We need a dialog about what is happening and  the cultural implications of what is happening.  I am hoping we start it today.