Can an Interviewer Ask for Your Facebook Password?

5600215736 b6d0ac73a9 Can an Interviewer Ask for Your Facebook Password?
Photo:  birgerking

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.

Email was never available for them to search, so they never knew life with it. Facebook was public, to some extent, and they want it back. So they are coming out and brazenly asking candidates to provide sensitive user information (which violates Facebook’s policy against revealing your user information to anyone. Hardly a crime, but it’s a bad sign that one organization wants you to violate another’s terms of use for their own edification).

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.

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Tim Murphy is the founder of ApplyMate.com - the first free web app to help you track school and job applications.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001856922548 Anna Gray

    Ask them for their password, too. If they think they have the right to know about you, then you have the right to know about them. It’s the same as cops asking for your cell phone password to get incriminating text messages out of it. You don’t have to give it to them.

    • Tim

      Hi Anna,

      Ha – I like it! I’ve heard a lot of people say they would respond by asking the interviewer for their password. Guarantee that would get a strange look.

      People have gotten pretty up in arms about this issue, and now with Facebook threatening to sue employers who ask for passwords, I expect this issue to fade away pretty quickly.

      Thanks for reading and for the comment!

      Tim

  • Rmcatalina

    If you are desperate for a job and expect to encounter this problem, the best remedy would be to delete your social media accounts and not look back. Unfortunatley, if you want to be employed by someone else you have to forefeit all of your civil rights to your employer. Never mind Facebook, they could legally ask you for access to your bank account, email, conduct a home and automobile search, require a full physical exam and conduct a body cavity search right there in the HR office. There is nothing to stop any level of abuse in the workplace.

    • Tim

      Hi Rmcatalina,

      The only problem I see with your suggestion is if the employer has already found your profile on Facebook (even if you keep most data private). You wouldn’t know to delete your profile until they ask you for it, and by then it’s too late.

      If they ask you for your password during an interview, and you say you don’t have one, you might get caught lying if they’ve already seen that you have a profile. Now, you might not care about getting caught in a lie like that because you think it’s none of their business to ask in the first place (which I agree with). But it might make for an awkward situation so I just wanted to warn you :).

      Thanks a lot for the comment and for reading!

      Tim

  • Curtis Walter

    Candidates have always been judged by their public image. If it’s not during a lunch interview it’s during a group interview. Historically people have called people who know candidates they are about to interview confidentially and saved time and trouble moving forward with the interview process. If you make anything public that shows a lack of ethics, morality or even drive, you run the risk of damaging your life. And by life I mean career. Living on love is hard do, especially when the bills roll in.

    Your public image has been and will always be everything to employers. As a headhunter the first thing I do is look at FB and LinkedIn profiles. I’ve lost too much money by not doing the due, due diligence.

    • Tim

      Hi Curtis,

      Thanks for the comment. I agree with what you said because you mentioned the “public-ness” of one’s profile several times. If someone posts compromising content on their public Facebook profile, they should face the consequences (which is people like yourself researching them, finding it, and not pursuing a job with them). But someone’s Facebook password and private profile is not public and therefore is none of any employer or headhunter’s business.

      Due diligence is a must, but that’s usually defined by reasonable research and investigation. Looking at one’s public Facebook or LinkedIn profile is totally reasonable. But asking for someone’s Facebook password goes well beyond reasonable.

      Thanks again for commenting and reading.

      Tim

    • Amoree99

      U r PATHETIC, a true creep….I hope not all all HHs are company robots like U!

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