Should anyone be able to demand access to your social media accounts?

To get off-topic here for a minute, I want to bring your attention to one of the hot topics in social media these days – that of the practice for people in positions of power insisting on having first-hand access to your social media accounts.

Facebook Privacy

I don’t remember when this first was a news item, but it came to the fore earlier this month when a US interviewee to a government position was asked for their Facebook username and password and had their account scrutinized in front of him in the interview room. After this hit the news, it seems more and more examples of this sort of practice began popping up all over the web, including a slightly less invasive approach by schools is to ask students to “friend” coaches or other authority figures.

The general feeling is that this is a basic violation of individual freedom and the right to privacy. The debate is hot and there are many schools of thought about whether this is something that should be allowed to continue and under what circumstances.

Opinions range from “it’s fine if you have nothing to hide” to the very indignant “they have no right to ask for my password”. With some in the IT industry implying that if an interviewee hands over their username and password that freely, they ought to be considered a security risk to the company and should not be hired at all. Some people have gone as far as to say create a dummy profile that has nothing posted on it and give employers that one instead. Others have suggested giving out the password but immediately changing it as soon as the interview is over. Yet still others suggest sanitizing your current account before going out for interviews so that in the event that you are backed into a corner, your timeline does not preclude you from getting a well-needed job.

US legislators have jumped into the mix too – some senators have voiced a desire to have this practice investigated fully for legal and constitutional concerns and violations. And it has gone as far as having a democrat bill being put to the vote to empower the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to step in and stop this action by corporations. Republicans in the House blocked this bill this week and by the comments on that article, we can assume that this was a very unpopular move.

Commenters mention all sorts of objections to this kind of practice, among which is a concern that it is not just the privacy of the interviewee or employee, but also that of their friends and family members as well – their friends and family may feel that they can no longer trust who is logged in and participating with them if there is a potential for someone other than the account owner having access to the account.

There are other implications for you as well. Think of all the other information you send to Facebook: book titles you’ve read or are reading and feel strongly about, celebrity crushes, political-based rants and opinions, even your own strong opinions on an issue such as this one. Consider that your current employer is thinking about putting in such a policy, you feel strongly that it is illegal and ought to be stopped and say so on your Facebook page … and then your boss finds out you did.

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