Last week, the Associated Press whipped certain corners of the Internet into an outrage frenzy when they reported that some job candidates were being asked by potential employers for their Facebook passwords, or to “friend” an HR manager, as part of the application process. The story spread far and wide, prompting responses from lawmakers, Facebook, the ACLU, and every blog everywhere, but a close reading of the article and subsequent follow-ups reveal that the sky is not, in fact, falling yet.
The AP article itself, headlined “Job seekers getting asked for Facebook passwords,” is actually worded quite carefully in the body of the story, beginning with a single anecdote, and then stating generally, “Since the rise of social networking, it has become common for managers to review publicly available Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts and other sites to learn more about job candidates.” The rest of the evidence deals with government agencies and law enforcement, where background checks are much more thorough, and the examples aren’t even recent, so it’s not exactly purporting to be a growing trend.
But, as usual, you’d have to read beyond the headline and opener to get that nuance. In one bit of overreaction, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut referred to “the practices that seem to be spreading voraciously around the country.”
The Hartford Courant looked into the story some more, and found that the idea originated on Reddit, where users aren’t exactly known for being measured. The AP reporter, Manuel Valdes, solicited stories there, and admits now, “My sense is that this happens in many private companies, but it doesn’t seem to be widespread.” That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, and he said the practice was worth covering “even if it’s isolated.” Big Brother may not have taken over yet, but at least we won’t be completely shocked if these incidents turn out to be prescient.