By Bob Sullivan
If you think privacy settings on your Facebook and Twitter accounts guarantee future employers or schools can’t see your private posts, guess again.
Employers and colleges find the treasure-trove of personal information hiding behind password-protected accounts and privacy walls just too tempting, and some are demanding full access from job applicants and student athletes.
In Maryland, job seekers applying to the state’s Department of Corrections have been asked during interviews to log into their accounts and let an interviewer watch while the potential employee clicks through wall posts, friends, photos and anything else that might be found behind the privacy wall.
Previously, applicants were asked to surrender their user name and password, but a complaint from the ACLU stopped that practice last year. While submitting to a Facebook review is voluntary, virtually all applicants agree to it out of a desire to score well in the interview, according Maryland ACLU legislative director Melissa Coretz Goemann.
Student-athletes in colleges around the country also are finding out they can no longer maintain privacy in Facebook communications because schools are requiring them to “friend” a coach or compliance officer, giving that person access to their “friends-only” posts. Schools are also turning to social media monitoring companies with names like UDilligence and Varsity Monitor for software packages that automate the task. The programs offer a “reputation scoreboard” to coaches and send “threat level” warnings about individual athletes to compliance officers.
A recent revision in the handbook at the University of North Carolina is typical: “Each team must identify at least one coach or administrator who is responsible for having access to and regularly monitoring the content of team members’ social networking sites and postings,” it reads. “The athletics department also reserves the right to have other staff members monitor athletes’ posts.”
All this scrutiny is too much for Bradley Shear, a Washington D.C.-lawyer who says both schools and employers are violating the First Amendment with demands for access to otherwise private social media content.
“I can’t believe some people think it’s OK to do this,” he said. “Maybe it’s OK if you live in a totalitarian regime, but we still have a Constitution to protect us. It’s not a far leap from reading people’s Facebook posts to reading their email. … As a society, where are we going to draw the line?”
Aside from the free speech concerns, Shear also thinks colleges take on unnecessary liability when they aggressively monitor student posts. “What if the University of Virginia had been monitoring accounts in the Yeardley Love case and missed signals that something was going to happen?” he said, referring to a notorious campus murder. “What about the liability the school might have?”
Shear has gotten the attention of Maryland state legislators, who have proposed two separate bills aimed at banning social media access by schools and potential employers. The ACLU is aggressively supporting the bills.