“More often, employers asking job seekers for Facebook passwords” – Austin American-Statesman
A week ago, the Associated Press created Internet pandemonium with a report that companies were asking prospective employees to fork over their Facebook passwords as part of the job application process. The story, repeated by countless news outlets and splashed on thousands of websites, brought swift and harsh reaction. Job seekers flocked to the Internet to proclaim the unprintable response they would provide to such a request. Facebook hinted at legal action. The ACLU chimed in. State legislators raced to draft bills banning the practice. And U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., joined his New York colleague Charles Schumer in asking the Department of Justice to investigate.
“It is vital that all individuals be allowed to determine for themselves what personal information they want to make public and protect personal information from their would-be employers,” Schumer declared.
But how real is the phenomenon?
The original AP story cited a single case of an unnamed private company that requested an applicant’s password. Beyond that anecdote, all of the examples related either to jobs in the narrow field of law-enforcement – where more-invasive background checks are common – or to practices less egregious than demanding a password (though still objectionable to many), such as reports that applicants were asked to “friend” a manager or to log on to their accounts during an interview. No companies were named.
Some of the examples in the story revolved around public agencies that had stopped asking applicants for passwords. Maryland prison officials had in the past requested Facebook passwords, but abandoned the practice after a complaint by the ACLU, according to the AP report. Likewise, three years ago, officials in Bozeman, Mont. stopped asking applicants to supply social-media passwords.
Nevertheless, several news outlets played the story with the suggestion that the practice was becoming increasingly common. “More employers are requiring applicants to submit their Facebook password as part of the application process,” NPR reported.
“A growing number of employers will request your Facebook password so they can delve into your personal life,” was the takeaway from KABC in Los Angeles.
But that’s not what the story said. And the author of the piece says he wasn’t claiming even that the practice was widespread.
To research the article, lead writer Manuel Valdes turned to Reddit, a popular Internet gathering spot. “I’ve seen several posts here of people taking pictures of job applications that ask for log-in information for Facebook, MySpace or other social networking sites,” Valdes wrote about a month ago. “Are you one of them?”
The request generated more than 1,700 comments, although the vast majority were merely commenting on the practice. Among the few directly on point, about 10 posters said they had been asked to provide access to their Facebook accounts when applying for jobs as police officers or correction officers. Fewer still said private companies had made similar requests, and Valdes typically asked them to email him. But it appears that few if any of those claims ultimately made it into the AP’s report.
“My sense is that this happens in many private companies, but it doesn’t seem to be widespread,” Valdes told me in an email, noting that in his original post on Reddit, he indicated he was interested in writing about the phenomenon “even if it’s isolated.”
Is it more than isolated? There is a small but persuasive number of reports of police agencies insisting on reviewing social-media pages as part an extensive pre-employment check. “The practice seems more prevalent among public agencies, such as law enforcement and 911 dispatchers,” Valdes acknowledged. In many of those cases, of course, applicants are also subjected to a full-on psychological evaluation.
Beyond that, there is little to suggest that typical employers are bearing down on applicants to open up their Facebook pages. Even with the vast crowd-sourcing power of the Internet, it’s not clear that anyone has outed a single private employer engaging in password-grabbing. But as Valdes’ report ricocheted around the Web, his anecdote morphed into a trend, and the trend became a growing trend, and overnight, an Internet/media monster was born.
Blumenthal, who intends to draft federal legislation in addition to his calls for an investigation, says he’s heard complaints about employers from constituents. He isn’t naming names, but the senator recently told the web site Politico that the password phenomenon appears to be “spreading voraciously around the country.”
“Spreading voraciously?” In the private sector, anyway, Claim Check is still waiting for the evidence.