Those funny pictures of your passed out on the lawn… harmless, right? What about your choice of joining the Facebook group, “I shouldn’t have to press 1 for English. We are in the United States. Learn the language.”? You’re entitled to have an opinion, aren’t you? You went out LARPing last month and you’re tagged in a photo carrying a battle axe and wearing dragon-scale armor. That’s just for fun, isn’t it?
When the Feds approved the ability of Social Intelligence Corp to run social media background checks under the Fair Credit Reporting Act that allows them to comb your images, postings, and various mentions of your name on social media sites, blogs, wikis, and the like, they opened up the door for companies to gaze into your personal life and make hiring decisions based upon your actions.
Is it a bad thing? Is our personal life something that can really be kept personal in a world where every subtle detail can be recorded on the internet? Should businesses make decisions based upon who we act like during interviews or at work, or should they use our “darker side” as a reference to how well we’ll be able to function as employees?
Both sides can make arguments. We’ll try to look at it from each perspective. On the surface, this seems to be a business and personal preferences issue. In reality, it has to do with our rights and the political ramifications of a subtle change in the way the internet is perceived and the data is stored.
The Big Scary
One major factor that should be consider is the storing of information. Much in the same way and protected by the same laws that govern credit checks, your information will be stored for 7 years. You can go and delete the picture of you passed out in the strip club bathroom, but they data will stay “on file” for 7-years.
As noted by Social Intelligence Corp’s COO Geoffrey Andrews, they do not “reuse” the information on subsequent checks. In other words, if you get busted and fail at getting one job, delete the incriminating evidence, then apply for another job, they will (in theory) run a fresh check and base their finding on that alone. We’re skeptical, but for now we’ll take them at their word.
Still, it’s a big scary to have all of that data floating out there, somewhere, available for someone someday.
Let’s face it. Our bosses know very little about us on a personal level. When we go to work, we’re often different people altogether. Is there a correlation between how we handle life outside of the office and what we do when we’re in work mode?
From an employer’s perspective, it makes sense to look into a person’s personality away from the office to make determinations about how they will handle the job. Just as with a credit check telling employers about responsibility and decision making, just as with a criminal history telling of integrity and moral fortitude, a social media check can give employers information about their potential hires that can make a difference.
Looking at it from the perspective of where society is heading, perhaps there needs to be limits and repercussions around what we do and how we broadcast our lives online. In the ideal Zuckerworld, “personal” becomes public and all too often that is the case for many. TMI is rampant. As a little silver lining, the presence of these social media checks may force people to be more careful with what they post and what is posted about them. Some would see this as a con, but we’ll post it as a pro just for the prudence factor.
That wasn’t a typo. There’s really only one “con” to focus on when dealing with this issue.
The image above is of “big brother”. He is watching us. It doesn’t matter how conspiratorial it sounds. If you don’t believe that corporations and governments aren’t keeping track of our activities, you’re not paying attention.
This is a step in the wrong direction of internet privacy and personal space. It adds a layer of doubt in a world loaded with fear that simply shouldn’t be there. One might say that it’s our personal responsibility to make sure that we’re posting only what we want known publicly, but that’s a cop-out. A buddy who takes a picture of you doing something you shouldn’t, then tagging you on Facebook might be harmless fun, but the sheer fact that it’s recorded and stored permanently somewhere out there is dangerous.
There may be benefits to this. Clearly, from a hiring perspective it gives employers more information about potential hires than they’ve ever had. Unfortunately, this snapshot taken of our personal lives will live forever – 7 years is a long time and there’s no guaranty that someone, whether a fun-loving hacker or a government entity, won’t take the data and store it forever.