The Case Against Recruiting on Facebook

As more and more employers consult Facebook, more and more people think it's shady

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Remember those pictures of you doing a keg stand in college that your friend tagged on Facebook? It's definitely time to take those down. According to The Wall Street Journal, the number of companies using Facebook as a recruiting tool is on the rise, and by next year, the social network will challenge traditional job boards for the attention of candidates. But if you've kept up with Facebook's meteoric rise to dominance, you'll know that companies' check with would-be employees' profiles has caused some problems in the past. "The antibodies kicked in pretty quickly," Adobe's recruiting chief Jeff Vijungco said of focus groups' reaction to the idea of recruiters using Facebook. "They thought it was very invasive."

"Invasive" has become a bit of a theme of the reactions to employers on Facebook.

Recruiting on Facebook opens the door to discrimination. In March, a human resources professional asked Fortune's advice columnist Anne Fisher why her boss told her to involve the legal department when using Facebook to screen applicants. Fisher explains:

One pitfall has to do with the concept of "disparate impact." To avoid the appearance of racial discrimination, the pool of candidates who can apply for a job should be made up of a mix of ethnic groups that roughly reflects the workforce as a whole. Relying too heavily on social media sites makes this difficult.

Facebook access blurs the line between private and professional. A correctional officer blew the whistle on the Maryland Department of Corrections this year after they required him to reveal his Facebook log-in and password in order to be recertified. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the case shows how the social network threatens our notion of privacy:

As many of us begin to rely on sites like Facebook to stay connected to our friends and family, it's important for employers and the government to keep in mind that, for most users, Facebook is a medium for private communications. It can be adjusted to be more or less public, both by the settings and by how many people are invited to be friends. So the Maryland DOC requiring full disclosure of an employee's Facebook page is no different from your boss looking through your diary, personal emails or home videos.

Some employers are developing a dangerous Big Brother tendency. The case against using Facebook for hiring is so strong that some countries are even moving to place legal limitations on the practice. Last August, Germany introduced legislation that would restrict how employers use Facebook and other social media to keep up with employees and candidates. According to Der Spiegel, the reasoning for the law was justified based on actual events:

The new law is partially a reaction to a number of recent scandals in Germany involving management spying on staff. In 2008, it was revealed that the discount retail chain Lidl had spied on employees in the toilet and had collected information on their private lives. National railway Deutsche Bahn and telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom were also involved in cases relating to surveillance of workers.

All things considered, a similar sort of law seems unlikely in the United States. (As we pointed out last week, Germany has famously tight privacy laws.) Nevertheless, it's never a bad idea to double-check your settings. Who knows who's looking at you.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.