Employers Shouldn’t Request Facebook Access –Instead Provide Governance and Training

Companies should empower their employees to safely use social networks by first guiding, training, and rewarding

While love struck teens are quick to share their Facebook passwords with each other, now a rash of corporations, colleges, and even government employers have been requesting that current employees and future candidates share their personal information by exposing their social networking accounts. Why do companies require access to this information? They seek to find out exactly how the individual behaves, or represents the company or previous company. Imagine being an interview and getting to the final stages then the recruiter offers a job offer with the only requirement access to personal social networking sites, “If you’ve nothing to hide, then its not an issue, right?”

Facebook made statements on how individual privacy was important, and released a statement on how they would: “We’ll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action”.  They then followed up that they would not take legal action by clarifying that: “While we do not have any immediate plans to take legal action against any specific employers, we look forward to engaging with policy makers and other stakeholders, to help better safeguard the privacy of our users”.   No clear solutions were provided, other than a shaking finger.

Companies Should Examine How Advanced Corporations Prepare for Social Business
Facebook didn’t clear up the solution, so here’s how I would approach the situation if these were clients I was working with, instead I would reference Altimeter’s recent research on How Advanced Corporations Prepare for Social Business (Report) and highlight how companies like Intel, Dell, Adobe, HRBlock have prepared their companies through a series of programs including governance, policies, training, and beyond. Companies should follow the social business hierarchy of needs, and should:

  • Start with Governance via Policies that are Easy to Understand. Provide Clear Policies on what’s expected in employee behavior on social networking, and what’s not expected. A clear FAQ, like Cisco’s social media program guidelines, should be offered free of legalese.
  • Offer an Internal Training Program for Existing and New Hires. Secondly, offer training programs, both like Intel’s Digital IQ online course for employees, supplemented with an online quiz in order to be a certified Social Media Professional (SMP. As well as offer ongoing training programs, and in person peer based learning sessions like Dell’s social media and communities (SMaC) university.
  • Reward Good Behavior and Foster a Culture Of Safe Enablement. Finally, rather than penalize employees for bad behavior, instead reward them like Salesforce has rewarded internal employees, dubbed the “Chateratti” for helping each other, and the top 25 were invited to a leadership offsite event.

A knee jerk reaction of companies is to either ban access to social networks (an ineffective strategy due to proliferation of mobile devices) or to break down trust by not empowering employees to do what’s right by demanding access to social networks.

Update: Augie Ray has similar thoughts, broken out by viewpoints for Employer and Employee

28 Replies to “Employers Shouldn’t Request Facebook Access –Instead Provide Governance and Training”

  1. Jeremiah the problem is not so much with companies who are asking for existing employees passwords but those who are asking it from interviewees. Maryland Dept of Corrections makes candidates login and look over their shoulder. Other companies are going the same route – in this economic climate candidates don’t want to risk being excluded because they didn’t co-operate. Basically its a case of give us access or don’t bother turning up for the interview.

  2. Any idea on where this practice for corporate America came to be?  If it’s a recent thing and we see it dying a quick death already, this become a ‘good to know that the question has been asked and answered already’ kind of thing.  If we see this practice being somehow supported by business leaders or legislators, it is a whole other kettle of fish.  IMHO, I can’t see it progressing much futher.

  3. Consider the mind set of a prospective employer who says “If you’ve done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to hide.”

    It comes from believing that the employee owes the employer a depth of allegiance that includes the employee’s personal value system. Since the employer presumes his own value system to be proper, he will use it as standard to evaluate that of the likely employee.

    Is this what we do with our customers? Up to a point, yes. But never to the point that an employer might press an employee to acquiescence. Why? Were we to treat our customers in such a way to this standard, we’d end up with few customers.

    I suggest this is how employees should treat their employers. The employee is selling a service to the employer. As such, would the employee ask his potential boss for the boss’ personal blog or Facebook account password during an interview just before closing a deal? How many bosses would say yes? Not many, of course.

    The question here is not one over training but over knowing well in advance of an interview what matters to have as shared beliefs with a business team to achieve the objectives of the business and what is a matter of personal belief, conviction or preference that is none of the business’ business.

    Any team or member thereof who cannot discern nor understand the importance of this distinguishing feature of a free, adult society is a business team not worth providing services to…unless you like living like a serf for at least 40 hours per week.

  4. Thanks Simon, I saw that example of a candidate too.  Either way, if the candidate gets the job the company will still think their account is a potential risk –hence the need for training.

  5. Thanks Simon, I saw that example of a candidate too.  Either way, if the candidate gets the job the company will still think their account is a potential risk –hence the need for training.

  6. You touch on something I’ve noticed – while schools have programs for sex ed and drug education, teaching social media responsibility to kids and families is lagging way behind sex and drugs. And as we all know, social media is the new sex and the new drug.

  7. Sad to think some need to be told that asking for a password is way down the slippery slope toward nightmarish distopia. 

    I teach eveyone that ANYTHING you post online is about as secure as the back of a postcard and set everything to public.. but if an employer ever asked me for a password, I would not bother to explain this. I’d be out of there.

  8. Steven I linked to the articles that indicate this is happening during pre-hiring interview screening.  Also, it’s occurring by some firms during existing employment situations.

  9. Hear Hear, Jeremiah.

    The military, police, dept of corrections, these have a uniqueness that could make for interesting debate on this topic. But in 99% of roles being recruited for, how could such an approach even be considered?

    If an organization cannot determine a candidate’s suitability without stooping to these methods then they need to seriously review their recruitment processes.

    Don’t alienate, empower.

  10. Warren, I agree with Jeremiah’s points, and I also think you are spot on. I’ve never thought of social media conversations as private and always assume they are open to pubic scrutiny. But that said, I think a lot of applicants do think of their social media accounts as private and use them to communicate with friends and family as freely they would on email. So I can relate. I would be pretty outraged if an employer requested access to my email accounts where I do have an expectation of privacy.

    The line needs to be drawn and if not here, where?

  11. Jennifer

    If you want line drawn, you have to appoint someone to draw it. I suggest that individuals draw their own lines.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your ideas and would suggest that every employer treat employees as you suggest. I just can’t condone putting it out as anything but a suggestion. 

    Just because applicant think they have privacy does not guarantee them privacy. I advocate authentic transparency everywhere it’s possible. 


  12. Jeremiah, Its really shocking article for me. I cant believe that companies can ask for Facebook or any there social network admin access for the job.  Just make one open site where people can come and share that “xyz” Company asked him/her for password….

  13. Prospective employees’ social media accounts shouldn’t be a subject of interest for employers; the most companies should do is ask their workers to post disclaimers on their social media pages (though this is also a controversial practice).  This also holds employees up to a double-standard. While they’re required to turn over their passwords, it’s unlikely that company execs will disclose confidential company info to them so openly.

  14. I don’t agree with you Jeremiah.I don’t think there’s need to be told that asking for a password is way down the slippery slope toward nightmarish distopia.

  15. I have a small company (14 employees). I ask for people to send me their social network profiles, not to see what is in them but to see how they react to that question. I would prefer a candidate who told me that they do NOT give out their networks to employers as it shows me they know how to draw the line between personal and corporate behavior. What do you think of this method? Is there a better way for me to determine this?

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