loginAfter last year’s FTC ruling that employers could use public information gathered from social media sites as part of a background check, many companies are adopting a practice of “shoulder surfing” where a hiring manager asks a job candidate to login to his or her social media account so that friends-only posting may be screened for objectionable material.

Some types of employers, especially those in the law enforcement sector, are even asking for personal passwords on job applications. While the final legality of this violation of social media privacy policy is determined, it is important, as a job seeker, not to crumble to this coercive tactic but also to deal with any incidences in a polite and professional manner.

Many states are currently introducing legislation to halt the practice however, should you be asked for any inappropriate information during an interview, there are several general statements that may be used to amiably rebuff any questionable request:

  • Inform the interviewer that you take any agreements into which you enter very seriously. Since it is contrary to general social media user policies to share your password, you would be acting against your principles in giving out that information so must respectfully decline the request.
  • Bring up the fact that the employer probably has its own policy regarding social media that must be followed under all circumstances. Argue that since your own social media policy dictates that your use of social media is personal only you are unable to acquiesce to the request.
  • State that, should you be hired with the organization, you would guard private company information as if it were your own. Since privacy is a vital concern for you, you must refuse the request to share private information. Wouldn’t a company want you to treat its own private information in the same way?
  • Defer to the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program regulations which forbid information about children and other protected private matters to be used in the process of making an employment decision. Since you don’t want to jeopardize the organization’s compliancy status with federal regulations you must keep your social media profile private.

Given the legal thin ice on which employers are skating in regards to demanding social media access as a prerequisite to employment, and Facebook’s own warning that the practice, “undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user’s friends,” and “potentially exposes the employer who seeks this access to unanticipated legal liability,” it is highly likely that the practice will cease to be legal at some point. However, in the near term, it is vital for job applicants to consider the potential ramifications of allowing an employer access to private information. Perhaps what the situation best illustrates is an aspect of reality that has always been true: be careful what information you make publicly available and consider the consequences of your words and actions.

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