The Roaring PJ Blog

My Employer’s Snooping! A Social Media Policy Review

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By Melanie Yunk | September 25, 2016

Early in my social media career, when social media policies were just forming, I met people who were asked to give up their social network passwords during job interviews. I also encountered someone who was forced to share a social media password with work, as the company was inspecting employee social media activity to ensure insider information wasn’t shared. Around this time, employees also starting taking issue with such an invasion of privacy.

Our Roaring Pajamas team recently chatted about this topic, knowing that a few states adopted laws around corporate social media policy, but curious about the current status of employee accounts and employer snooping. As the team dug in, we found this topic fascinating and thought you might, too.

The Law

Over the last few years, many states have considered and enacted laws around social media policy and social media privacy when it comes to employers. The team found The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) as the definitive source on, among other things, the states that have adopted or are considering laws that prevent employers and potential employers from requesting passwords to personal social accounts as a basis for getting or keeping a job.

As a California girl, I am happy that California adopted comprehensive social media policy in September 2012. When signing the Social Media Privacy Act, California Governor Jerry Brown stated, "Today I am signing Assembly Bill 1844 and Senate Bill 1349, prohibiting universities and employers from demanding your email and social media passwords. California pioneered the social media revolution. These laws protect Californians from unwarranted invasions of their social media accounts." Many other states also outlaw the practice, including Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, and Maryland - to just name a handful. For information and status updates of the other states, check out the NCSL’s comprehensive details on social media policy legislation across the country.

The Startup

Adding an interesting twist to this topic, Mashable recently highlighted an Australian startup with a tool that allows employers to automatically and quickly Google stalk candidates. The Social Index, with a recruit’s permission, gathers publicly available social media data, aggregates trends in the subject’s posts and delivers a report to both the recruiter and recruit. The company claims that, for a recruit, “it accurately aggregates and analyses an individual’s digital footprint and showcases your experience, skills and online influence relevant to the role you have applied for and is presented as an easy-to-read infographic. These insights allow for you to have deeper conversations with the prospective employer around their role and company, ensuring that both meets your particular career aspirations.” For a recruiter or employer, this tool allows them to easily look “further and deeper into a candidate’s profile to identify value and brand aligned individuals, using social media to determine and discover true talent.”

Interesting. I wonder how this will fly with current social media policy in the United States?

The Advice

Many parents tell tweens and teens to never post anything on social media or write in an email anything they don’t want their grandma to read. While this advice was mostly gained after years of seeing the ill-effects of digital scandal and may be sound for someone who doesn’t yet have a digital footprint, this advice certainly doesn’t address the needs of someone a little older and with a digital presence. So, aside from advising someone to move to a state that protects employees from social media privacy invasions or to (somehow!) demolish one’s entire digital footprint, our team considered the best guidance for someone seeking employment in the social media age.

Nolo proved a great source of counsel on what an employee - or prospective employee - can do if they are in a state where social media policy hasn’t been enacted or if they encounter a tool such as The Social Index. And, frankly, we think this advice remains useful for everyone, regardless of the state of residence or employment status.

Here are the top four actions to take:

  1. Check out your digital footprint. Did you find anything you need to clean up? Do it - like, stat!
  2. Consider your privacy settings. If you want to leave some information online but it’s NSFW, put it behind a privacy wall that will protect you if you are in a state that forbids employers from accessing employee’s social networks. If you aren’t in such a state, just take it down!
  3. Untag yourself. Find photos of you that others have posted? Ask your friend to remove the photo. Or, if nothing else, untag yourself. Going forward, don’t allow yourself to be tagged in photos.
  4. Explain if necessary. For anything that cannot be removed from scrutiny, be ready to explain it - and what you may have done differently. Don’t be caught off-guard or without an answer to why you were doing something unsuitable, unflattering or - worse - illegal.

Needless to say, this remains a complex and ever-evolving topic, one that we can only scratch the surface in a blog post. But, it reminds us to remain vigilant in thinking through what we post and write online. What are your thoughts on social media policy and do you live in a state that has enacted laws around social media privacy? Have you ever had an employer or recruiter asked you to surrender passwords? Would your digital footprint withstand review from examination?

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