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By alancleaver_2000

The vast majority of posts here on Context Over Dogma deal with social media specifically with respect to use in marketing. But as we all know, social media has implications throughout our lives and across numerous business and personal disciplines. Every so often, we like to address a non-marketing facet of the social media world in which we live and play. These issues will, in some way, affect us all.

Early last week, I came across an article that detailed goings-on at The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. During a recent job interview with the Department of Corrections, Officer Robert Collins was forced to give up the password to his private Facebook account. Rallying to Officer Collins’ defense was the ACLU, which sent a particularly scathing letter to the Maryland Department of Corrections, in which it called the move “a frightening and illegal invasion of privacy” and stated that “[n]either Officer Collins nor his Facebook ‘friends’ deserve to have the government snooping about their private electronic communications.”

I shared the article with my own Facebook friends, and watched the comments roll in: “NO!”, “$%*& NO!”, “%@#&#* &#*&@!” etc… If colorful metaphors can be taken as indication, clearly, a nerve had been touched.

Rushing to the defense of Employers’ right to learn about Applicants was a trusted friend who has spent years working as an auditor for a large accounting firm. In response to my question about whether people thought that Employers should be able to demand private Facebook passwords, he said, “They absolutely can and they will…There’s nothing private about your Facebook profile…I disagree with it, but many…companies are now actively monitoring employees’ Facebook profiles in accordance with new FINRA regulations.”

Umbrage, while misplaced when taken with Employers’ screening of social media sites like Facebook, is well suited for cases like that of Officer Collins. The fact is, you choose what information is made public on your Facebook profile. You choose to share and discuss articles with your friends. You choose to post status updates to your wall, and let others post to it, too. You even choose to publicly click “like” on endless links to keyboard playing kitties. You choose what to share, and (perhaps more importantly) what not to; and between these two, a line must be drawn.

Potential Employers don’t have the right to go through your private correspondence (paper or electronic). Why then should they have access to your private Facebook messages? Why should they, by simple virtue of asking for your password, have access to chat histories, your private email address, account & privacy settings, and photographs? Is this really the shape of things to come?

Decidedly, no. In this case, The Maryland Department of Correctional Services clearly overstepped its bounds, and kudos given to the ACLU for defending Officer Collins are well deserved. We at Pandemic Labs are passionate about social media, and about the crucial role that integrity plays in the space. We constantly strive to maintain the privacy of our clients, while still cultivating the level of transparency and the philosophy of engagement that social media demands. Cases like that of Officer Collins represent the natural growing pains involved with social media, and remind us all to remain vigilant in defense of our privacy. Monitoring of profiles is a prudent move on the Employer’s part – and leaves the smarts to keep what portions of  their Facebook presence they want to keep private, in the Employee’s hands. Culpability rests with them, and they should be smart enough to know what to share, and what not to. But asking Employees – even potential ones – to reveal their Facebook password isn’t just a definite no-no – it’s wrong, plain and simple.

Written by Ed Gazarian
Ed is the Managing Partner of Pandemic Labs, where he occasionally does some work in-between deep discussions of both Shakespeare and Star Wars.