Social media and social networking sites are becoming more and more popular in today’s world as a means of communication and marketing. The most used social media site that has emerged is Facebook which is used by all groups of society. Approximately 45% of employers (who the exact employers are is inaccessible due to confidentiality issues) are using Facebook as a means for screening potential job applicants (Rosen). Employers have recently started asking candidates for their username and passwords as part of the job hiring process (Castillo). If candidates say no, they are immediately eliminated from the job pool which is detrimental in a time when unemployment rates are relatively high. The process of employers viewing candidate’s profiles and now even requesting their user name and password has brought up ethical and legal questions concerning privacy rights. While employers “believe they have the right to obtain as much information as possible about applicants” by using social networking sites, many others feel it is an invasion of privacy (Byrnside, 458). The legality of the issue is being explored in the courts but the ethics of the employer is still in question. By utilizing Robert Nozick’s Entitlement Theory to understand the ethical issues that stem from this dilemma, I feel as though the employers are not entitled to access candidate’s Facebook profiles.
Facebook is the most well-known online social networking site with over 845 million worldwide members (Fach). Facebook was founded by three Harvard students, Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes, in 2004. It started out as a networking site limited to only Harvard students and then expanded to include all colleges, then high school students, and eventually anyone over the age of thirteen (“Facebook”). Facebook users create an account using a valid e-mail address and password free of charge. Users create a profile containing basic information about them; select networks that they belong to (such as the university they attend); designate friends; upload photos or videos; communicate using “wall posts”, instant message, or e-mail; create events; post statuses; post blogs; play games; and/or access other’s pages. When a user logs on, they are taken to a home page that contains a “news feed” which informs users of updates on selected friends. The user can then access their profile or their friends in an interactive manner (Pempek, 230). Check out these sites for more facts that show the impact Facebook has had on our society, SEJ and Mediabistro.
Facebook is no longer a part of just the private world as it has entered the professional world over the last couple of years. Not only are companies setting up their own Facebook accounts, but they are also using Facebook during the hiring process. Besides interviewing and “Googling” applicants, employers are “discovering that social networking sites allow them to learn more than they ever could from reading an applicant’s resume or cover letter” (Brandenburg, 598). According to a video developed by the USC Annenberg career center, employers are using Facebook as a way to gauge candidate’s professional judgment.
They want to see what candidate’s think is appropriate to post about themselves. They don’t like to see revealing photos or photos of candidate’s engaging in illegal activities. They also don’t like to see status updates that are controversial or negative. The figure to the left demostrates such an inappropriate picture. According to a 2009 survey conducted by CareerBuilders.com, approximately 45% of organizations use online social networking sites to screen job candidates (Rosen). Out of those companies that use sites such as Facebook, 35% have not hired a candidate based on information they discovered. The reasons for ending the applicants chances of hire included the employer finding inappropriate photographs or information, content about drinking or drug use, bad-mouthing others, poor communication skills, discriminatory comments, misrepresentations of qualifications, or sharing confidential information from previous employment (Rosen).
Those that are unemployed or just entering the work force fresh out of college need to be aware of the content of their Facebook page. Jobs openings are becoming more competitive as the current unemployment rate as of March of 2012 is 8.3% (See Figure 4 in the Appendix). While every age demographic participates in using Facebook, college students are by far the greatest users as nine out of every ten college students have an account (Rice). These graduating students and unemployed Americans need to be aware of the content and privacy settings on their Facebook page. In fact, in a study completed by Ratan Dey, Zubin Jelveh, and Keith Ross, there has been an overall increase in the number of people using private settings for a number of items that are displayed on their Facebook page. While these private settings block employers from directly viewing their page, employers are finding ways to gain access to candidate’s sites without gaining their permission. Most colleges and universities have Facebook networks that allow anyone that attended that school to access fellow students or alumni’s profile pages. Therefore, some companies will ask current interns and employees to “access their peers’ social networking profiles and effectively circumvent any privacy settings a potential hire may have put in place to attempt to restrict unwanted persons from accessing their profile” (Brandenburg, 602). Another method employers use in order to gain “access to the Facebook profiles of applicants [is] by signing up for alumni email addresses with their alma maters” (Byrnside, 455).
While employers have been viewing candidate’s Facebook profiles over the years as a screening process, employers are now requesting candidates to hand over their Facebook username and password or ask them to access their profiles during the interview (Castillo). This news video on KMOV.com comments on the issue in more detail (Valdes). By directly asking candidates for their passwords or to view their profiles, they can bypass any concerns about violating privacy protection laws since they are gaining consent from the candidate. Candidates feel pressured to hand over their private information since the job market is very competitive and if they refuse, they will be eliminated from the candidate pool. These new steps that employers are taking to gain Facebook access is currently being discussed in the House of Representatives as many Senators believe that requesting such information is breaking the law (Stern).
Overall, employers have three main methods they can use to bypass privacy settings in order to view a candidates profile including using other employee’s profiles since they belong in the same network; by signing up for alumni email addresses with the employers alma maters; or by asking for the candidate’s password and username. The main ethical issue in question is the right of employers to access candidate’s private profiles by using these three techniques. Robert Nozick’s Entitlement Theory can be utilized in order to understand the ethical issues that stem from this dilemma. According to the Entitlement Theory, “the complete principle of distributive justice would say simply that a distribution is just if everyone is entitled to the holdings they possess under the distribution” (Nozick, 204). In order for a distribution to be just, a person must acquire a holding either by the principle of justice in acquisition or by the principle of justice in transfer. The principle of justice in acquisition is a John Locke ideal that anyone is entitled to own a thing whose value he has created (Nozick, 175). The principle of justice in transfer occurs when there is a voluntary exchange of transfers. Therefore, when “some people steal from others, or defraud them, or enslave them, seizing their product and preventing them from living as they choose, or forcibly exclude others from competing in exchanges” they are not permissible modes of transfers (Nozick, 205). There is also a third principle apart of the Entitlement Theory which is the principle of rectification. This principle states that only through the application of justice in acquisition and/or justice in transfer gives someone the entitlement to that holding. It also takes into consideration the history principle which states that past actions can generate different justified entitlements and if a holding was acquired justly in the past, then it is considered to be a just holding in the present.
However, Nozik’s theory does not end with the three requirements for justice in holdings; the historical principle also needs to be considered. By considering the three methods that employers use to bypass the privacy settings, I believe that employers would not be entitled to access candidate’s Facebook profiles. The first method involves employers accessing candidate’s profiles through their own employee’s personal profiles who belong to the same network. In this method, employers are pretending to be someone else in order to gain access which violates Nozick’s “permissible modes of transition from one situation to another” since they are basically stealing the candidate’s profile (Nozick, 205). The second method is when employers create an email that allows them to connect with others from the same alma mater. This method also is not a permissible mode of transfer since it basically seizes the candidate’s profile in a way that prevents them from “living as they choose” (Nozick, 205). Candidates will be aware of this employer’s access and could cause them not to post everything that they would normally choose to do. Additionally, the third method that employers use is to ask candidates to have their password and username directly during the interview process. Given the high unemployment rates, if a candidate refuses to hand over their password, they will probably automatically be terminated as a possibility for the position. Therefore the mode of transition of the holding (the candidate’s profile), “forcibly exclude[s] others from competing in exchanges” and is not a permissible mode of transfer (Nozick, 205). These three methods that employers use to gain access to candidate’s Facebook profiles violates a justice in holding due to the historical principle. Therefore, according the Nozick’s Entitlement Theory, employers are not entitled to view job candidate’s profiles that are on private settings.
Overall, employers’ use of Facebook as a part of the hiring screening process raises both legal and ethical questions. Social networking is expanding all over the world and has become a part of everyday life for many. In fact, Facebook gets about 1 out of every 5 page visits on the website (Fach). With that much influence it is no wonder that employers are taking advantage of screening candidates on these sites (along with the fact that it is cheap). Even though Robert Nozick’s Entitlement Theory would prohibit employers from the right to view candidate’s profiles, employers will continue to use this screening process until the law prohibits it. Therefore, it is important for those that are entering the workforce either for the first time or are stuck in limbo to monitor their Facebook profiles to make sure they are as employable as possible other wise, you my find yourself in an awkward interview such as this:
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