March 27, 2012 at 7:18 AM ET
Facebook came out swinging last week over reports that employers are asking employees and job seekers to turn over their passwords to access individual profiles and their activities on the site.
The company said in a statement it would “take action to protect the privacy and security of our users,” including potentially taking legal action.
Public opinion is clearly with Facebook on this, and many took to social media to condemn such password shakedowns. But it’s time to tone down the hysteria. It turns out, few hiring managers choose to put on their Sherlock Holmes cyber snooping hats.
Yes, it's disturbing to hear that some hiring managers are asking for Facebook passwords from job candidates. And in this tough economy, saying no to such a request may mean you don’t end up landing the gig because there are still so many people out there looking for work.
But in reality, Big Brother has not taken over the workplace.
“It’s overblown,” said Jason Morris, president of EmployeeScreenIQ, an employee-screening company, about the recent uproar over social media prowling. “I’ve never come across an employer that asked for passwords or anything as invasive as that.”
A recent study by his company found that many companies are not rushing to the Web or any place else to look you up.
The study, which polled 650 HR professionals nationwide, found:
“Despite the potential they might hold,” the report stated, “social networking websites are not yet widely accepted as trusted background-checking resource.”
Of those hiring managers using the Web to screen candidates, Morris said, they’re mainly just Googling applicants. “They don’t really even know what they’re looking for,” he added, “they’re just doing it.”
Mining a job applicant’s social networking sites can pose a legal liability for employers, especially when it comes to bias in hiring. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and the rest, often provide a picture of a job seeker, including race, religion, disability, etc., and if a hiring manager decides not to offer someone a job after perusing such sites they could face charges of discrimination.
Workers aren't out of the woods yet, however. The researchers said, "We anticipate that the trend of those who utilize these sites as a screening tool will only increase in the coming years."
In the end, Facebook may not have to fight to hard even if this practice becomes widespread because there are movements afoot on the federal and state level to introduce new laws to curb such behavior.
“Maryland and Illinois are already well along in considering proposed bills to regulate this practice,” said Daniel Prywes, an employment attorney for Bryan Cave. “The proposed bills would broadly prohibit employers from seeking access to private areas of social media accounts, with no exceptions for law enforcement or similar sensitive types of employment.”
So let’s all take a deep breath and realize not every job will hinge on your cyber persona.