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Bucknell, cases, Paper 2, Philosophy or Ethics, Readings, Research, Writing

Employers Creative Use of Facebook

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.

                As an online social networking site, privacy has been an issue for many Facebook users. Since Facebook is a part of the internet, a public domain, virtually anyone can access a user’s profile. In order to protect users from unwanted viewers, Facebook has set up many different privacy settings so users can control who can view their photos, wall posts, statuses, and profiles (“Statement of Rights and Responsibilities“). For example, a user can set their profile setting so that it is available to the public, their friends, or is completely customized. A user can also set privacy settings every time they post something and monitor what their friends post about them. While Facebook makes it appear to users that their profile privacy can be controlled, they post a disclaimer in their privacy policy that warns “Although we allow you to set privacy options that limit access to your pages, please be aware that no security measures are perfect or impenetrable. We cannot control the actions of other Users with whom you may choose to share your pages and information. Therefore, we cannot and do not guarantee that User Content you post on the Site will not be viewed by unauthorized persons” (“Data Use Policy“). Therefore, many Facebook users are given a sense of false security on their private settings unless they read the entire private policy.

                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.

Ray Lam, a former candidate for Vancouver-False Creek, posted this inappropriate picture of himself on Facebook. He retired shortly afterwards.

 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.

At first glance, I believed that employers were entitled to access a candidate’s private Facebook profile based on Nozick’s Entitlement Theory and more specifically the principle of transfer. There are two reasons why I felt that the principle of transfer applied at first. First of all, Facebook profiles are posted on the Internet, which is according to the courts, a public domain. Because of this, Facebook pages are considered to be fair game for anyone to access (Bryside, 461). Secondly, “the information on these social networking sites is voluntarily disclosed and posted in the public domain by the applicants themselves” (Bryside, 461). Since candidates are voluntarily posting information about themselves on a public domain, they are willingly transferring their holding (information about them) to anyone that has Internet access, including employers. While some users of Facebook are under the impression that they have instilled privacy settings, they should be aware that according to the Facebook privacy policy that that might not always be the case. Additionally, when employers ask candidates for their password and user name and the candidate gives them the information, it is voluntary action.

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:

Works Cited

“10 Things You Need to Know about Facebook Right Now.” AllFacebook. WebMediaBrands, Inc., 3 Feb. 2012. Web. 31 Mar. 2012. <http://www.allfacebook.com/facebook-statistics-2012-02>.

Brandenburg, Carly. “The Newest Way to Screen Job Applicants: A Social Networker’s Nightmare.” Federal Communications Law Journal 60.2 (2007): 597-626. Google Scholar. Web. 30 Mar. 2012. <http://www.law.indiana.edu/fclj/pubs/v60/no3/11-Brandenburg.pdf>.

Byrnside, Ian. “Six Clicks of Separation: The Legal Ramifications of Employers Using Social Networking Sites to Research Applicants.” Vanderbilt J Entertainment & Techno Law Winter 2008: 445-77. Ebsco Host. Web. 30 Mar. 2012. <http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?sid=c96dcd3c-fbbf-4bb5-9e3e-f58062564d7c%40sessionmgr14&vid=1&hid=19&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=ofm&AN=502065252>.

Castillo, Angel. “Employers’ Prying Facebook Access Demands Raise Serious Privacy Concerns.” Hernando Today. Hernando Today, 31 Mar. 2012. Web. 31 Mar. 2012. <http://www2.hernandotoday.com/news/hernando-news/2012/mar/31/haopino1-employers-prying-facebook-access-demands–ar-386963/>.

CBC News. “Candidate’s Racy Facebook Photos Showed ‘lack of Judgment’: B.C. NDP Leader.” CBC News: Technology and Science. CBC, 20 Apr. 2009. Web. 8 Apr. 2012. <http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2009/04/20/bc-facebook-ray-lam-facebook-photos-james.html>.

“Data Use Policy.” Facebook. Facebook, 23 Sept. 2011. Web. 1 Apr. 2012. <http://www.facebook.com/about/privacy/>.

Dey, Ratan, Zubin Jelveh, and Keith Ross. “Facebook Users Have Become Much More Private: A Large-Scale Study.” NYU Poly. Polytechnic Institute of New York University, 2011. Web. 30 Mar. 2012. <http://www.cis.poly.edu/~ross/papers/FacebookPrivacy.pdf>.

Fach, Melissa. “Stats on Facebook 2012.” Search Engine Journal. Search Engine Journal, 17 Feb. 2012. Web. 1 Apr. 2012. <http://www.searchenginejournal.com/stats-on-facebook-2012-infographic/40301/>.

“Facebook.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 04 Apr. 2012. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1366111/Facebook>.

“Inappropriate Status Updates.” Facebook. Facebook, 8 Apr. 2012. Web. 8 Apr. 2012. <http://www.facebook.com/pages/Inappropriate-Status-Updates/10150091781780176>.

Nozick, Robert. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. United States: BasicBooks, 1974. Web. 30 Mar. 2012. <http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=hAi3CdjXlQsC&oi=fnd&pg=PR9&dq=anarcy,+state,+and+utopia&ots=OGk4u2inoM&sig=AgqLrHQeFNDLVIc8yBykXbTR32U#v=onepage&q=anarcy%2C%20state%2C%20and%20utopia&f=false>.

Pempek, Tiffany A., Yevdokiya A. Yermolayeva, and Sandra L. Calvert. “College Students’ Social Networking Experiences on Facebook.” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 30 (2009): 227-38. 11 Jan. 2011. Web. 1 Apr. 2012. <http://elkhealth.pbworks.com/f/College+Students’+Social+Networking+on+Facebook.pdf>.

Rice, Alexandra. “Students Push Their Facebook Use Further Into Course Work.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 27 Oct. 2011. Web. 31 Mar. 2012. <http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/students-push-their-facebook-use-further-into-academics/33947>.

Rosen, Les. “Social Media Background Screening Checks of Job Applicants Becoming More Prevalent and More Controversial.” Web blog post. Employment Screening Resources. Employment Screening Resources News, 5 Jan. 2012. Web. 31 Mar. 2012. <http://www.esrcheck.com/wordpress/2012/01/05/social-media-background-screening-checks-of-job-applicants-becoming-more-prevalent-and-more-controversial/>.

“Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.” Facebook. Facebook, 26 Apr. 2011. Web. 30 Mar. 2012. <http://www.facebook.com/legal/terms?ref=pf>.

Stern, Joanna. “Demanding Facebook Passwords May Break Law, Say Senators.” ABC News. ABC News, 26 Mar. 2012. Web. 30 Mar. 2012. <http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/facebook-passwords-employers-schools-demand-access-facebook-senators/story?id=16005565>.

United States. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mar. 2012. Web. 1 Apr. 2012. <http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf>.

USC Annenberg. “Job Search 101: Facebook/Your Profile.” YouTube. YouTube, 17 Aug. 2009. Web. 8 Apr. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tsa27KSTHX4&feature=related>.

Valdes, Manuel. “Job Seekers Getting Asked for Facebook Passwords.” KMOV.com. KMOV.com, 20 Mar. 2012. Web. 8 Apr. 2012. <http://www.kmov.com/home/Job-seekers-getting-asked-for-Facebook-passwords-143473406.html>.


About Amanda Skonezney

I am a senior accounting major and anthropology minor at Bucknell University. I am also apart of the division I women's water polo team. I currently live in Harrisburg, PA. After graduation, I plan on going into tax and earning my CPA.


4 thoughts on “Employers Creative Use of Facebook

  1. Did you see anyone out there advocating a type of legal solution that is enforceable. As we mentioned in class, there is no constitutional right to privacy. It is not enumerated as such. Rather, as I understand it, the courts and the Supreme Court have “found” this right as implicit in other rights. For example, the right to not have an illegal search is founded on an implicit right that liberty is dependent on privacy. Overall, though, employers are given huge latitude in the US over how they can control employees. In a nutshell, the first amendment ends at the cubicle door.

    This is the iceberg of a profound issue.

    Just my quick reaction. I’ll mull over your analysis of Nozick too. My gut tells me he would agree with you since he is in general going to be suspicious of coerced access to someone else’s “holdings” of their own or others’ personal information.

    But, are you outraged by this? Doesn’t seem so.

    Posted by Jordi | April 9, 2012, 8:44 am
  2. The one source (Rosen) discusses how 45% of CareerBuilder’s respondents to a survey say the use Facebook. It is not clear if that is a representative sample of employers nationally. When first mentioned, you seem to suggest this.

    Posted by Jordi | April 24, 2012, 8:01 am
  3. A fascinating case and a sophisticated use of Nozick. I agree that the better part of prudence is to not post certain aspects of your personal life, at least until the law catches up to the technology and usage. While we should each know the privacy policy limits of Facebook, at the same time, I think strategically and ethically, they are responsible for providing a reasonable amount of confidence in what they call “privacy settings.”

    I would have liked for your to more directly address the ethical issues, or failings, of employers who are using potentially false or dubious information gathered under coercion or deception about information that has an unclear imapct on performance.

    Can employees ask for the employers Facebook account?

    Also, if Facebook becomes “squeaky clean,” will people develop alternates? I assume the desire to share with friends will not simply evaporate, but if this trend ocntinues, will find new outlets. If that is the case. Facebook may find itself much less valuable. It is the very mingling of different spheres of one’s life that makes it valuable to users and hence as a company (which has yet to make a profit, I hear).

    Posted by Jordi | April 24, 2012, 8:07 am


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