An important question is presented in an online poll by a local North Carolina website this morning.
Employment is a contract of trust between the employer and employee. Both parties have the obligation and right to ensure by any legal means necessary that the relationship will be of benefit to both parties. Does this include reviewing social profiles?
I believe yes, but whether you agree or not background checks are already entrenched as part of the hiring process, and searching online is an inexpensive way to extend such checks. It also allows employers to evaluate aspects of an employee that may not be evident from background checks or interviews.
Searching online and finding social network information is so cheap and easy that it’s a way for employers who cannot afford to hire such services to check on prospective employees.
One could argue that looking at people’s profiles is an invasion of privacy. But first, the information that employers can find is already publicly available. Second, most social applications allow privacy settings that prevent unwanted viewers of your profile.
You need to ask whether you are using social networks for a social experience (i.e., just to have fun) or do you consider such use part of your professional persona? In the first case, you’d be smart to set everything to private and don’t allow access to anyone you’d mind seeing you drunk, stoned, half-naked, etc. In the second, follow my golden rule: don’t put anything online that you would not be comfortable seeing splashed on the front page of your local newspaper.
Finally, how on earth do you police whether or not employers look at your social media profiles? I think the question is a valid one, but framed somewhat naively.