Hiring and Firing Based on Social Media Violates Workers’ Privacy

“Make sure to keep your Facebook professional, your future bosses will be looking at it.” Anyone currently in college has been hearing this advice for about a decade and everyone saying it has turned out to be right. According to an August 2016 survey, 60 percent of employers now use social media to research potential employees, up from 52 percent in 2015. A separate survey showed that roughly two-thirds of recruiters will “negatively reconsider” candidates whose social media profiles contain profanity or spelling and grammar errors, and about half will reconsider candidates who post anything relating to guns or alcohol. Even being invisible on social media is not enough to protect potential employees; 41 percent of hiring managers say they are less likely to interview a candidate if they cannot find enough information about them online.

In other words, posting about a Saturday night pub crawl, taking a picture at the Logan gun range, using vulgarity to describe a political figure, using the wrong form of “their” or even failing to maintain a Facebook page can potentially limit employment opportunities. The ability to hire and fire based on social media pushes employers’ power deep into the private lives of their workers and holds their livelihoods hostage to a strict image of professionalism.

As corporate power seeps through the wall separating work and private life, workers lose freedom of choice and gradually cede more and more autonomy to their bosses. The only solution, as the proportion of employers screening candidates via social media inevitably climbs toward 100 percent, is for workers to maintain a “professional online persona,” constantly curating their social-media image to make sure it measures up to corporate standards of conduct.

Alternatively, students can partition their online presence in the hopes of misleading nosy hiring managers by maintaining a public and perfectly spell-checked Facebook profile. This profile would reflect back to the corporate functionaries making employment decisions their ideal image of the job applicant: a hard-working student making time for family and engaging in 100 percent sober and wholesome social activities. On a second account, visible only to close friends and impossible to find through a Google search for their names, students can post what they’ve really been doing.

Finally, to all the aspiring entrepreneurs sitting under the stock ticker in the Jake Jabs College of Business, and anyone else whose dreams are going to require the labor of others, let your employees have private lives. Don’t search through their social media for evidence that they faked the all-business, totally-professional demeanor you saw in their interview. Everyone does. No one is professional all the time, and no one should have to pretend to be in order to earn a living.