Employers Hunt Down Your Bachelor Party Pics on Facebook

Last Updated Jul 22, 2011 10:02 AM EDT

There's a new company in town, which aids employers in background checks. Social Intelligence, according to the New York Times,
...scrapes the Internet for everything prospective employees may have said or done online in the past seven years.

Then it assembles a dossier with examples of professional honors and charitable work, along with negative information that meets specific criteria: online evidence of racist remarks; references to drugs; sexually explicit photos, text messages or videos; flagrant displays of weapons or bombs and clearly identifiable violent activity.

Aiyee! Just what the unemployed need is another barrier to a job. People are, understandably upset, but not upset enough to stop posting pictures of themselves with their marijuana plants or uploading nude videos. (Why, people, why must we do stupid things?)

And that's the problem, right there. We say we want privacy, but then spend half our lives writing and posting things on a very, very, very public space. Gone are the days where you could tell your "friends" something in confidence and expect it not to become public, when your friends are electronic ones. Blog comments and chat groups, as well as the standard sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and (perhaps) Google+ (which I haven't joined yet, but probably should).

But, why do we insist on thinking that this is private? It's not. And why do employers insist on trying to find out this type of information on their prospective employees? They should evaluate themselves and think, "If I held myself to the same standards as I'm holding these candidates, would I be hired?" I'm guessing that in many cases the answer is no.

NYT commenter, Adam L. summed up the problem quite nicely:

We'll quickly reach the point where every single person in the workplace is rendered unemployable. People should obviously use common sense when deciding what to put online; at the same time, if it doesn't affect their job performance, it shouldn't be any of the employer's business.
Another NYT commenter, Neildsmith, also had a stellar comment. He/She writes:
My boss is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.
I don't want the internet to become a bunch of posts about how wonderful our bosses are. (My editor, by the way, is the most awesome, amazing, wonderful editor ever, and not just because she pays me.) I love that I can discuss issues that I'm interested in with people I've never met. I love being able to keep in contact with my friends from junior high. I also make sure that everything I post, I'm willing to stand behind, because I undoubtedly will have to. Everyone should think that way.

But, conversations that we once had over the dinner table are now held over Facebook and snapshots of something said 5 years ago fails to show how we've evolved over time. Ideas change. Employers need to realize that. And yes, even if you were stupid enough to take a picture of yourself with your marijuana plant back in 2007, doesn't mean you're stupid enough to do so now.

My advice for you, don't complain about your lack of privacy when you post things to a public space. My advice for employers? Cut out "deep" internet background searches. Really. Just because in 2005 someone joined some stupid Facebook group doesn't mean they are racist/sexist/whateverist. Be extra, extra careful before you exclude someone from consideration because of something they said.

After all, you've said stupid things as well. And if I want, I can hire Social Intelligence to find out about it.

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Photo by hyku, Flickr cc 2.0