I recently saw this article from The Atlantic, and this AP story (currently with over 800 comments) that both talk about the rising prevalence of interviewers asking candidates for their Facebook passwords. Not user IDs or handles – their passwords. I’m really worked up about this because I think it’s not only inappropriate but it’s exploitative and a sign of brazen laziness. In short, I think it’s total bullshit.
First, check out the articles and see if you pick up what I did – a growing sense that this is just a “sign of the times” or part of the natural progression of social media and technology. Bullshit. Email has been around for many years and no one would ever think about asking for your email password, and they could certainly glean the better, more detailed info from email than a Facebook account. So what’s the difference? It all comes back to laziness.
Back in the early days of Facebook, recruiters received a huge research and information boon. Candidates were applying for jobs while posting all sorts of compromising photos and information out in the open. Anyone looking to make a character judgment could look up a Facebook profile that was left public and get all the dirt they wanted. Suddenly their research time was fractionalized. Check out this article from the Onion about Facebook being a “dream come true” for the CIA, and how they couldn’t believe so many people were just giving out so much personal info. It was kind of a dream come true for employers too.
But in recent years, people have become a lot more savvy (some were always so – keeping their profile tightly behind privacy walls, many times despite Facebook’s best efforts). Some of the first employment advice you’ll see if you search the term is to clean and lock up your online/social profile. Suddenly all that easy info that employers had at their fingertips was gone and they were forced to spend more time and money researching candidates.
Part of the argument you’ll hear and read in the articles above is, “Candidates don’t have to provide that information. They are free to leave whenever they want.” While technically true, it’s totally disingenuous.
First, a candidate might not know they have the option to say no. Anyone who took Psyche 101 probably learned about Milgram’s study on Obedience and Authority. From Psychology Today:
The subjects believed they were part of an experiment supposedly dealing with the relationship between punishment and learning. An experimenter—who used no coercive powers beyond a stern aura of mechanical and vacant-eyed efficiency—instructed participants to shock a learner by pressing a lever on a machine each time the learner made a mistake on a word-matching task. Each subsequent error led to an increase in the intensity of the shock in 15-volt increments, from 15 to 450 volts.
In actuality, the shock box was a well-crafted prop and the learner an actor who did not actually get shocked. The result: A majority of the subjects continued to obey to the end—believing they were delivering 450 volt shocks—simply because the experimenter commanded them to. [emphasis added]
During a job interview, one side clearly has more authority than the other. In such an instance, it’s very possible (I’d say likely) the candidate will feel they have to obey simply because they were told something by the person in authority. Plus – if the candidate is someone who’s been out of work for six months or more, they are under markedly more stress and are even more likely to comply. That’s uncomfortably close to being coercion. Employers asking for Facebook passwords are very aware of the influence they hold during the interview, and they are not shy about exploiting it and the candidates.
So what to do?
I can rant and rave about how I think this practice is bullshit, but for the time being they aren’t breaking any laws (though I expect that to change). So what should you do if asked for your Facebook or any other social media password? Everyone’s situation is different, and some don’t have a choice – they need a job and that’s it. If you’re in that camp, make sure everything on your profile is clean and very buttoned up before the interview. That’s about all you can do.
If you are less desperate for a job, I would politely but firmly refuse such information. If they push back, you can always walk away and find a place that doesn’t try to coerce or exploit its applicants. Taking advantage of people is wrong, but when it’s someone trying to find a job, who’s probably down on their luck as it is, that really makes me mad.
What do you think? Am I wrong? Is this just the same as any other thorough interview tactic or even a drug test? Would love to hear about it in the comments.
Special thanks to Paul for bringing this to my attention.