I had a Facebook identity crisis last week.
After submitting my application for a competitive post-graduate opportunity, I decided it might be a good idea to deactivate my Facebook account.
To the best of my knowledge, there are no tagged photos of me robbing convenience stores or smuggling illegal immigrants across the border, but who knows what might have slipped past my privacy settings over the years.
Just five minutes later, the problem loomed larger when I was deciding who to ask to write me letters of recommendation.
Once I’d decided, I contacted a former coworker for our former boss’ e-mail address.
“No,” she text-messaged back. “But you can find him on Facebook.” The irony.
So there I was, with one option for contacting him and one glaring question: Is it better to stick with strict privacy settings and hope for the best, or deactivate and lose the site as a networking tool?
There’s little doubt anymore that job applicants’ Facebook pages are something employers consider in the hiring process.
Tim Stiles, associate director of University Career Services, said 10 to 20 percent of employers use Google or social networking sites to check on student applicants.
It’s no majority, but it’s certainly something.
Employers invest a great deal of time, energy and money into new employees, so they have every right to utilize any reasonable tool to find out what they can about applicants.
But when it comes to the relationship status between employers and “reasonable” tools, well … it’s complicated.
My first concern was whether it’s possible for resourceful techies to get past my preferences.
I’d heard ominous rumors that there are underground programs capable of penetrating even the most protective privacy settings.
A quick Google search will give you quite a few, many of which ask for passwords, and all of which I consider too illegitimate to test.
And unfortunately, Facebook is a tricky beast to get in touch with to confirm.
I was told in a personal e-mail from a Facebook press hotline representative that Facebook did “not have a spokesperson available to visit” with me. Friend request denied.
But Stiles said that he’s never heard of employers implementing such clandestine tactics.
“That could cross the line between what’s in the public domain and what’s accessible to someone else, and intentionally trying to break into someone’s privacy,” he said.
And that’s the conclusion to which I ultimately came.
Employers should feel justified in Googling and Facebooking until their fingers go numb. But it’s the applicant’s responsibility to limit what they can find.
If you don’t want potential employers to see pictures of you dressed as what you consider an adorably risqué version of Little Red Riding Hood, make your tagged photos private.
But at the same time, I hope employers will be respectful of the privacy settings Facebook users employ. If applicants are smart enough to use them, I hope employers will be respectful enough to stay away from things like www.spyonfacebook.com.
So I’m back on the ’Book.
And what’s even more ironic is that halfway through writing this column, I searched for my former boss. He’s not even on there.
Abbey Caldwell is a senior journalism and international studies major from Charlotte. Contact Abbey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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