One of the things we’ll try (and probably fail) to explain fully to future generations is how ubiquitous and powerful Facebook was at this point in time and yet how so many people just didn’t fully understand how it worked.
Case in point: the Baltimore Sun reports that Maryland will become the first state to pass a law banning employers from asking prospective and current employees for their login credentials for the likes of Facebook and Twitter. Pending Governor Martin O’Malley’s signature, Facebook will be, as it were, on the books.
This is a law that shouldn’t have to be passed. The idea that it’s even remotely acceptable to demand someone’s username and password for anything is ludicrous, but since apparently employers are doing it anyway, the law needed to happen.
Maryland General Assembly
A favorite item from the article is that some employers feel they need access to applicant’s Facebook accounts because it “could provide useful information to weed out unwanted candidates”. Well, of course it would--so would bank records, credit card statements, phone taps, and a highlight reel from the job candidate’s freshman year of college--but employers aren’t allowed by law to access such things (also, that last thing is impossible), and for good reason. Do some of these HR departments just not get the concept of how usernames and passwords relate to privacy, or do they just not care? Is it possible that there are people who don’t understand the difference between looking at someone’s publicly-displayed profile information and logging in to that person’s actual account?
Yes, scouring social networks for dirt on someone is par for the course; employers would be stupid not to research a candidate thoroughly before hiring one, and whatever information is available publicly is fair game. But that’s actually part of the deal: When on the job market, wise people either crank their Facebook privacy settings to the proverbial eleven or simply alter their displayed profile names, but if you have picture up of yourself engaging in activities of ill repute and you haven’t bothered to adjust your privacy settings accordingly, you deserve to get weeded out.
Hats off the lawmakers in Maryland, who passed the bill by a wide margin. Maryland is the first state to craft such a law, but it certainly won’t be the last. Further, on the federal level, Senators Chuck Schumer and Richard Blumenthal have apparently asked the DoJ and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to look into the issue.