Sunday, January 23, 2011

Should employers make decisions based on clandestine Facebook background investigations, especially of Friends' pages?

We’ve seen numerous stories of people not being hired or actually being fired over Facebook content, but  Bidhan Parmar (from Darden Business School at the University of Virginia here ) has one of the most sobering pieces ever on p G2 of the Sunday, Jan. 23 Washington Post, (website url) here. Note "The Lesson" at the end. 

The article is from a “Case In Point” series and is titled “Should you check Facebook before hiring?” A manager at a consulting firm (hint, sends associates to client sites) on her own checks two candidates online; both are about equal (like “equality” in a chess game, maybe).  One has only professional content and no sharp-edged material (away I go!), but the other, while his own posts are sensible, is founded tagged on a Facebook Friend’s profile drinking and smoking, perhaps approaching bong hits. The candidate was not told about the “background check” and had even marked his own profile private, but the Friend’s profile is public. You can’t control what public Friends say about you (unless you hire a company like “Reputation Defender”). She picks the clean candidate.

Is this ethical?

Good question. My own take is that companies should announce their BI policies, just as with credit checks.  In a real world, a candidate is responsible for cleaning up his own credit history, even if it due to mistakes made by others in reporting, or even due to identity theft. The same seems to be true of online reputation. 

I actually don’t think companies should depend on informal Internet “background checks” but I do understand the dilemma of sending people to clients.  I think the BI should be done with the candidate present  (or at least on the phone in a conference call or by Skype) so he or she can explain what is found.  Remember, an employer’s clients might do the same, out of curiosity, before accepting a candidate, in a W-2 contract hire situation, common in I.T.

Zuckerburg’s face (the notorious Time head shot) is shown in the print version of the article.

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