Dangers of the Dirty Profile

Hiring bosses, schools differ on the value of web snooping

By Jonathan Reyes | Felix Varela Senior High School

What happens on Facebook may not necessarily stay on Facebook.

Inappropriate photos are there for the world to see. Millions of people post a variety of content, good and bad, on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. They want to catch up with friends and post pictures of parties and their vacations.

Employers and universities are on Facebook, too, but they are there to catch who is misbehaving. Those beers at the Fourth of July picnic may give an employer reason to think an applicant drinks too much.

With the world online, colleges and businesses have access to extra information about people’s personal lives. They are scoping Facebook profiles to check on behaviors of their applicants.

“Establishments wanting to see a person’s Facebook page are not doing anything illegal,” said Sam Terilli, a First Amendment lawyer. “A lot of them who are hiring and accept young adults into positions that are considered to be high-profile are starting to engage more and more into this practice.

“If they find that the ‘you’ online is at odds with the ‘you’ that you’re portraying yourself to be in the business world, then that company may want to be aware of that. I think the lesson for everybody is, if you post it online you are not to assume it’s private – even if you’ve set your privacy settings in a way that restricts access.”

Organizations such as the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers have expressed strong opposition to using social media to screen applicants. AACRAO is a nonprofit, voluntary, professional association of more than 10,000 higher education admissions and registration professionals who represent more than 2,600 institutions and agencies in the United States and in 28 countries around the world.

“Admissions office staffs viewing personal information on social networking sites are asking for trouble,” said Barmak Nassirian, AACRAO’s associate executive director. “Our organization believes that these actions are 100 percent unfair. Our recommendations are simply don’t do it, point blank. It’s unethical. We can’t forget that admissions officers are people. They can easily go online and search for more information than they were originally provided.”

University of Miami admissions officials say they don’t meddle with social media during the admissions process.

“With 28,000 students applying, we don’t have the time or the resources to check our applicants’ Facebook pages,” said Deanna Voss, UM’s director of Admission Recruitment and Operations. “We don’t plan on searching social networking sites anytime soon. “

University of Florida officials also say the number of students applying are too much to handle.

“We’ve actually had many inquires about the UF admissions office using social networking sites during the student application process,” said Steve Orlando, director of the UF News Bureau. “My answer is no, UF does not consider them because it’s a logistics issue.”

The University of Michigan is one institution that admits to using Facebook and Twitter to augment evaluation of applications for admission in the upcoming years.

“We have a holistic and individualized process, and social media is not currently used,” said Erica Sanders, director of recruitment and operations at the University of Michigan. “We routinely evaluate and update our process each year, and perhaps the use of social media will be included in the future.”

Businesses may check to see how often applicants are on Facebook to know if they are easily distracted.

Sue Murphy, association manager of the National Human Resources Association, thinks employers should use caution when it comes to snooping around Facebook. It may cross the line of familiarity and relationships between a boss and employee as well as go against the kind of professionalism that employers should adhere to.

“What’s on Facebook is public record. Businesses are getting in trouble because they are picking and choosing which employees to search the web for,” Murphy said. “I suggest that they don’t go anywhere near Facebook or Twitter. But if they do, the organization should appoint a human resources representative to look into everyone’s personal information, not just random applicants. As long as they are looking at everyone’s profile fairly, they aren’t at risk of potential roadblocks.”

But the manager at Menchie’s frozen yogurt shop in Davie considers Facebook to be a good source for information.

“We check our applicant’s Facebook because we want to make sure that they aren’t hiding any qualities that may be harmful to the workplace,” said Menchies store manager Kathy Kuhns.

“At Menchies, we hire polite and positive people. We just want to make sure that they don’t feel negative when coming into work every day. I don’t think we’re spying on anybody’s personal life. It’s just a precaution.”

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