The Pros and Cons of Facebook Profiling: Con

The safeguards we set on our Facebook profiles to prevent unwanted eyes from viewing them will cease to protect our profiles from potential employers. Recently, employers have insisted on having unrestricted access to the Facebook profiles of potential employees in order to gain a more comprehensive view on the candidates. The use of social network profiling is increasing in practice with more companies demanding either the applicant’s password or having a human resources “shoulder surf” his or her profile without any privacy settings during the interview.

In today’s competitive job market, employers wish to differentiate the responsible, hard-working candidates from the lazy, procrastinating ones, and an applicant’s Facebook profile provides a means to distinguish between the two. Social network profiling provides a more accurate and detailed depiction of the applicant’s work ethic, thus allowing the employer a more rounded idea of the individual.

Employers’ ability to poke around potential employees’ profiles stems from the fact that there are many more applicants than job positions. Candidates have no choice but to allow potential employers access to their uncensored Facebook profiles because if they do not, there will be another applicant waiting to replace them. For most candidates, the momentary invasion of privacy is a small price to pay for a steady job in today’s economy and so when forced to pick between a chance at landing a job and censoring their Facebook, candidates will gladly forgo Facebook freedom.

However, as knowledge of this Facebook profiling spreads, potential candidates become motivated to censor their Facebook profiles by simply deleting obscene or inappropriate content. Some even go so far to delete friends that may not meet the employer’s standards before an interview. But the applicant’s tailoring of their profiles renders the social network profiling moot by no longer allowing employers to view the candidate in a candid manner. Facebook profiles then turn into another part of the resume rather than as a means for social networking.

Furthermore, even though candidates condone the “shoulder surfing” and the invasion of privacy, lawyers are advising against it since Facebook profiles include information that cannot be gleaned from a resume like an applicant’s ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. The information gleaned has been shown to factor in the decision to hire a potential applicant, thus leading to discrimination and violating anti-discrimination laws. State legislators from Maryland and Illinois are outraged at the practice and are attempting to outlaw it. They recognize the legal and ethical dangers of employers demanding unrestricted access to an applicant’s Facebook profile and understand that the candidate’s acquiescence is due to coercion and not voluntary.

Facebook itself is outraged at the blatant invasion of privacy of its users. Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, notes that the request to access a user’s Facebook profile privacy-protected content is a violation of Facebook’s terms of service. She states, “This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the use and the user’s friends … As a user, you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job.”  While Facebook cannot enforce their terms of service, they warn of the legal liability that comes with “shoulder surfing” and unrestricted access to a candidate’s profile, thus conveying their disapproval. Facebook is taking a stand for the privacy of its users and condemning the employers for taking advantage of the job market.

While the current practice of unrestricted access to an applicant’s profile is abhorrent, social network profiling is tolerable when voluntary consent is given. Information that employers can glean from a public perusal of an applicant’s Facebook profile is fair since the applicant has knowingly and consentingly made that information public. But the current practice of employers demanding unrestricted access to a potential employee’s social profile is abhorrent due to its coercion and unethical nature.

Stephanie Cheng is a first-year chemistry major. She can be reached at sccheng1@uci.edu.