Potential employees will no longer be asked to submit their Facebook and MySpace passwords as part of a “background check,” said a spokeswoman for Bozeman, MT. This about-face on its hiring policy came less than a week after news of the new policy ignited a firestorm of criticism. The town initially defended its position–claiming that it had a duty to be as thorough as possible in investigating potential job applicants. As one may well imagine, the policy wasn’t very popular. (In fact, one poll reported that 98% of residents felt it was an invasion of privacy).
Without restating the obvious, this policy had a lot of serious problems. There’s the possibility that the request would have constituted a violation of privacy under the First, Fourth, and Fifteenth Amendments–remember,this is a government employer.
But the more immediate issue is the limitations this policy would impose on the potential applicant pool. Candidates who value personal privacy and who have a Facebook, MySpace, or similar account, likely wouldn’t apply. This means that that they would likely exclude almost all Gen Y and most Gen X candidates because this segment of the population places privacy at a premium and values their online networks.
And who would they get as applicants? Well, only individuals over 32, in the first instance. And, of those, only individuals who would either lie and say they didn’t have any online profile or individuals who have a “I-do-what-I’m-told-regardless” mentality–the same type of mentality that enabled Hitler to become the leader of an entire nation. And,don’t forget that, by turning over their password to their Facebook account, the individual would be in violation of Facebook’s terms of service–so you’d end up with a bunch of rule-breakers. Not to mention that turning over a personal password for anything to anyone is just a bad idea indicative of someone with poor judgment (who’s to say that some rogue HR employee wouldn’t commit some heinous act like blocking out the original owner or changing or deleting the individual’s profile–Identity Theft 101 says this is a preventable problem). Oh, and maybe some individuals who are just so desperate for employment of any kind that they’d be willing to forgo their personal autonomy–a characteristic certain to last for a very brief period, especially once employment had been secured.
So, in all, they’d likely end up with an entire workforce of people who either can’t or prefer not to think for themselves, have poor judgment, or who would be nearly impossible to retain. What a result.
In the end, the market would eliminate this job requirement–Bozeman would become an employer of last resort. But I’m glad to hear that public outcry stepped in and corrected it before the market had a chance to adapt.