Nosy Colleges and Employers Are Coming for Your Facebook Passwords

Relieved because you finally figured out how to block those blacked-out party photos your former roommate refuses to de-tag on Facebook? Think again! Employers and colleges are growing dissatisfied with your politically correct, G-rated social media presence, and they want an all-access pass to all public photos of you looking more lit than firecracker.

An increasing number of organizations are now asking applicants for unrestricted access to websites like Facebook and Twitter in the form of usernames and passwords, or, if they must compromise, requiring interviewees to click through their private feeds while they literally watch over their shoulders.

MSNBC found multiple examples of organizations who force candidates to submit to truly insane breaches of privacy. For example, job seekers applying to Maryland's Department of Corrections have been asked to log into their accounts and click through wall posts, friends, photos and other private information while interviewers look on behind them. Previously, the department straight-up asked applicants for their user names and passwords, until the ACLU intervened and eventually negotiated this creepy "compromise." Then, there are the student-athletes who have to "friend" coaches so they have access to friends-only updates. A handbook at the University of North Carolina now reads: "Each team must identify at least one coach or administrator who is responsible for having access to and regularly monitoring the content of team members' social networking sites and postings."

Schools can also outsource their spying to social media monitoring companies, like UDilligence or Varsity Monitor, which offer "reputation scoreboards" that send "threat level" warnings about athletes to their coaches. Cool, so we're basically living in a sports-themed 1984 sequel. And there aren't any laws to stop colleges from using the same methods to screen other students — Washington D.C.-based lawyer Bradley Shear told MSNBC that he's heard from non-athlete college applicants that interviewers have requested Facebook or Twitter login information from them as well.

The organizations say they have legitimate reasons for wanting access to your private social media presence: Maryland's Department of Corrections is trying to avoid hiring guards with gang ties, and well-known student athletes often embarrass universities when they tweet or Facebook-post inappropriately. But does any explanation really justify such snooping? "A good analogy for this, in the offline world, would it be acceptable for schools to require athletes to bug their off-campus apartments? Does a school have a right to know who all your friends are?" said Shear. "After 9/11, we have a culture where some people think it's OK for the government to be this involved in our lives, that it's OK to turn everything over to the government. But it's not. We still have privacy rights in this country, and we still have a Constitution."

But perhaps the issue has less to do with communism paranoia and more with the recession. People who desperately need jobs will agree to impositions that make them uncomfortable in order to pay rent. For example, the Facebook reviews are actually voluntary at the Maryland Department of Corrections, but "virtually all applicants" agree to go through the process because they want to score the position.

I don't think there's anything wrong with looking at an applicant's public Facebook or Twitter account, and, in fact, recent studies show that employers get a pretty accurate read of how well candidates will do on the job by checking out their public social media pages. In one study, HR types were asked to rate hundreds of college students' Facebook pages based on what was publicly available:

"This involved looking at ... photos, status updates, and conversations with friends, and then assigning each person a score for a number of qualities important to being a good employee, such as their degree of emotionally stability, conscientiousness, extroversion, intellectual curiosity and agreeableness. (In other words, will they flip out on you, care about completing tasks, be fun to work with, be creative in problem solving, and be willing to kiss up when necessary?)"

The study determined that people with angsty "MY LIFE SUX" status updates were red flags, but those with tons of Facebook friends and "crazy" photo albums were actually attractive candidates. There are issues with this kind of snooping, too — for example, it would be illegal for employers to discriminate based on one's religious views — but it seems like a fair compromise to me. We're obviously judged every time we sit through an interview or even send a cover letter, which is why we wear our nicest shirts and use our best grammar. Similarly, it's up to everyone to present his or her best self on the internet. But mandating an uncensored look into one's past or private life is unnacceptable — and, at the risk of sounding like Glenn Beck, really does remind me of an Orwell novel.

State agencies, colleges demand applicants' Facebook passwords [MSNBC]
Facebook Can Tell You If A Person Is Worth Hiring [FORBES]

Image via grynold/Shutterstock.