Here's another reason (not one I hadn't considered, but one which I considered to be likely to be less likely and, well, assuming they can access whatever they like is a good policy): The government could force access to your private posts.
In this new age, apparently the government not only can but will force access to your private "posts", and for something as insignificant as for interviewing you for an internship! Yes, you read that right. It wasn't LJ, but there is nothing stopping it from being LJ next time.
(... and just in case they take the article off-line...)
- Facebook, Myspace, etc. And Getting Hired (6/22/2006)
The following article comes from NACE Spotlight Online
The Issues Surrounding College Recruiting and Social Networking Web Sites
- Working as an office manager in a career services office and hearing the warnings surrounding social networking sites, the mother knew her son could potentially have a problem. The son had created his Facebook.com profile when he was 18. Now 20, he had accumulated a good amount of material—typical college musings and photos—that his friends might enjoy but others might view differently.
The son was beginning a search for an internship, so she asked him to consider limiting access to his profile to just his friends. Understanding the gravity of the situation, he heeded his mother's advice and did so.
Shortly after, he got the call he had been waiting for. A state agency wanted to interview him for an internship. He prepared for the interview and reviewed the types of questions that could be asked. He was ready, as ready as he could be.
But, during the interview, something he was not prepared for happened. The interviewer began asking specific questions about the content on his Facebook.com listing and the situation became very awkward and uncomfortable. The son had thought only those he allowed to access his profile would be able to do so. But, the interviewer explained that as a state agency, recruiters accessed his Facebook account under the auspices of the Patriot Act.
Fortunately the son had previous working relationships with a few members in the office and knew a staff member there. He was offered and accepted the internship. Still, this true story is an example of what can happen in the gray area surrounding public information and how it fits into the practice of information gathering during college recruiting.
So, although listings on social networking web sites are, in fact, public information, are there ethical issues surrounding such a search? NACE's Principles for Professional Conduct Committee is currently addressing this question.
Social networking sites such as Facebook.com or MySpace.com allow people to post profiles of themselves and other materials such as pictures and blogs online. The prevalence of teenagers and young adults who do so is astounding, and the practice has become a cultural phenomenon.
"It's an extension of getting themselves out there and connecting with people they do and don't know," says Alan Goodman, director of career services at The Catholic University of America and a member of NACE's Principles for Professional Conduct Committee. "When I was in high school, we communicated by passing notes in class, or we talked or called each other. That need to connect is ingrained in our culture and it's more prevalent today because it's easy to do so."
According to Facebook.com, the "web site has grown to over 7.5 million people and … ranks as the seventh-most trafficked site in the United States. People with a valid e-mail address from a supported college, high school, or company can register for Facebook and create a profile to share information, photos, and interests with their friends."
But it's not just friends who view these profiles.
"Those Internet environments are marketed heavily as social networks," says Ken Rogers, senior management recruiter at Trader Publishing and a member of the Principles for Professional Conduct Committee. "They tend to disarm users in ways to make them believe that the information they post will just be shared by the user's circle of friends. In fact, they are no different than any other space on the Internet. The reality is it goes beyond the intention. It's public, and there is a false sense of security surrounding these sites perpetuated by the environment itself."
MySpace.com, for instance, invites visitors to "Create a private community on MySpace and you can share photos, journals, and interests with your growing network of mutual friends!" Even though MySpace says in this invitation on it's "About" page that the communities are "private," in a separate area of the site—one titled "Safety Tips"—MySpace warns, "Don't forget that your profile and MySpace forums are public spaces. Don't post anything you wouldn't want the world to know (e.g., your phone number, address, IM screen name, or specific whereabouts). Avoid posting anything that would make it easy for a stranger to find you, such as where you hang out every day after school."
In other words, there are inherent risks involved in posting your personal information for the world to see. Of course, these risks extend far beyond a missed internship or job opportunity. But in the context of a job search, the results of information getting into the hands of those it's not intended to reach can be devastating.
Many students don't understand the ramifications of posting questionable materials; even if it's intended for friends to see, it can be available to anyone with Internet access.
"People derive impressions from them relative to their interaction with them," Goodman notes. "A friend might think what they post is cute or funny. An employer, meanwhile, might think it's arrogant, immature, unprofessional, or any number of negative things. I think the possibility of losing out on a job because of information posted by a student online exists, especially when there's strong competition for a position."
For example, an employer could decide that the finalists for a position look equal, but the information posted on one of their Facebook pages leaves a bad impression, and the employer could decide to eliminate that candidate from consideration.
While he has no data or supporting evidence, Goodman feels that employers in intelligence work, finance, and law enforcement could be more likely to do in-depth background checks on candidates that include "Googling" or searching on social networking sites. Still, he doesn't think such checks are the norm.
"I think employers initially might have been curious to use this as way to find out about people," Goodman notes. "Some of them soberly realized that they don't really need to go there. I would be surprised if lots of organizations have made it a policy to get into students' online profiles as part of the recruiting process."
According to Rogers, students still need to take advantage of every access restriction available to them.
"They need to be diligent about that," he says. "Anyone can register to get access to the site. They can register under false pretenses or under best intentions, but this step gives students a false sense of security in that they believe they are only sharing space with like minds and with people who wouldn't betray them."
Even for students who do take every precaution to post information that can't haunt them in any way, cracks remain.
"Another flaw in the system is if you are in a photo that someone else posts with your name attached to it, you will still come up in a search," says Rosemary Hill, director of engineering career services at The Ohio State University and chairperson of NACE's Principles for Professional Conduct Committee.
But the question remains: Since this is public information freely posted by students, is it unethical for potential employers to search for it and take it into consideration when selecting new hires?
"In my personal opinion, it's a little bit sneaky to do so," Hill says. "On Facebook, for example, users have to have an account with a .edu e-mail from a school to view the information of students from that school. Maybe a recent hire or alum from that institution does have one and can use it to find out more about candidates. That seems like they are circumventing accepted practices to obtain information. Nevertheless, we need to advise students to read the site's privacy or safety tips to avoid inadvertently broadcasting personal information beyond their intended audience."
Goodman also thinks the practice seems sneaky.
"My own opinion is that while you are able to get that information, and you are not violating a student's privacy, doing so feels intrusive even if it isn't illegal or technically unethical," he says. "Think about why students put it out it out there. Did they include it as part of their application process? Even though employers aren't snooping, the feeling is that they are peeking around the corner for something they couldn't get during the interviewing process."
Rogers recommends that recruiters and employers restrict themselves to finding out what's necessary to determine if the candidate can perform the job. Still, for students creating or updating their online profiles, there is only one way to ensure no one has access to potentially damaging information or pictures.
"I have a rule of thumb here," Rogers says. "You shouldn't broadcast or share any information that you wouldn't want to share with your parents or spouse, or that you would be ashamed of should it appear on the front page of the newspaper. Follow that and you can't go wrong."