At the Crossroads of Media, Culture and Technology

Want that job? Hand over those social media passwords. Now.

Have you ever been asked for your social media passwords? If so, have you given them? Would you?

This image from IVN’s post “Privacy Rights on Social Media Sites Remain Unwritten”, December 12, 2012, by Jane Susskind

It’s become increasingly common for recruiters for both employers and college admissions departments to request that applicants hand over their social media credentials. This practice has sparked indignation by job seekers and college applicants, and has resulted in legislation restricting the use of social media use as a barrier to college or employment.

A recent NPR story draws attention to the rising concern about coercion to hand over social media passwords. Six states – Michigan, Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland and California now have adopted social media laws to deal with this issue. Bradley Shear, the social media lawyer who helped to draft California’s law, expects to see more social media privacy legislation in the future.

Such organizations as the ACLU aren’t convinced that this legislation covers all privacy concerns, but laud it as a step in the right direction. They point out that the proposed California legislation does not extend to high school students, who have in other circumstances been the victims of egregious privacy violations at the hands of school officials. A case in point is that of a 12 year old middle school girl who was disciplined at school because of complaints she made on her Facebook page about an incident with another student in which she felt unfairly treated.

Proponents of privacy laws feel that when it comes to the online world, schools and employers have cast aside inhibitions that would in the past have prevented them from, say, demanding to search a job applicant’s purse or demand that an applicant to a university bring in his personal photo album for their perusal.

Where will this all end?  Extend the question to the use of social media by existing employees and students, and such examples of control as college athletes being banned from using Twitter proliferate.  Online publication Athletic Business reports that some schools go so far as to contract with online oversight companies such as UDiligence and Varsity Monitor to search posts by athletes for potentially embarrassing content and report back to coaches.

One social media attorney contends that what is really needed here is a healthy dose of common sense.  Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization dedicated to protecting online privacy, believes that legislation is not the answer.  In the same NPR piece about the new California privacy laws, Opsahl called for employers to stop asking for social media credentials.  He believes that “… there actually are a lot of dangers associated with legislatures trying to regulate technology with law”.

Still, employers and college admissions continue to ask.  And as long as they do, legislation is predicted to grow.  The online frontier remains a wild place. Are you concerned?

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This post is categorized in: Law, Privacy, Social Media

About Carolyn Higgins

Carolyn Higgins is fascinated by art, literature, nature and politics. She writes from north Seattle.

2 Responses to Want that job? Hand over those social media passwords. Now.

  1. Kirsten says:

    Great article! In my own opinion, handing over social media passwords is like handing over email passwords, or letting employers read your text messages. An employer has every right to view a prospective employee’s public social media accounts and they should, but I don’t think an employer has any right to browse through personal messages.

  2. Bizzy Schorr says:

    It honestly kind of blows my mind that people would think it at all appropriate to even ask. It’s like asking for keys to my mail box, or my personal email account. I expect them to monitor my public social media actions, and even use that data in their evaluation and decision making. But no way will anyone else every have my login credentials.

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