Friday, September 19, 2008

The Audacity of Technology

For a while now, businesses have been looking into and at (or at least claiming to look into and at) their applicants Myspace and Facebook pages; and now, colleges are apparently following suit by examining students' Facebook and Myspace pages while deciding to to accept and deny (as a sidenote, apparently Facebook still isn't as ubiquitous as Myspace, as Myspace is regarded as a proper word and Facebook still gets the red squiggly lines). Indulging in behaviors and being photographed doing them -or having people even jokingly comment about them in an open forum could jeopardize their futures. One girl in the video linked claims that students looking to go to a prestigious school shouldn't be engaging in such behaviors that would give colleges pause. Another person in the video suggested looking into privacy settings, which is something (aside from my on-line stalkerish tendencies) I agree with for everyone regardless of where they are in the college application process. But the real question is, should students' on-line behaviors really negatively or positively affect their futures? Should we treat Myspaces and Facebooks as open windows to their souls? Are these behaviors all the better when cloaked in the darkness?

This sort of situation angers me. I have a pretty big problem with schools and even employers looking at a person's on-line identity and then using that as a deciding factor in whether or not to hire or accept someone. I am not a huge fan of Facebook or Myspace to begin with; I have a Facebook page, but it is pretty tame. And that is because I am pretty tame. I would probably have no problem whatsoever in being accepted to any college or any job due to my Facebook account. At the same time though, I can't help but feel as if this is an invasion of the students' rights. The criteria for what is acceptable on a Facebook page is nebulous at best. Will a friend's drug reference on your wall be the deciding factor? Is it only the pictures? Should one scrub mention of their political affiliations or sexual identity or any other potentially discriminating aspects of their lives from their Facebook page in the event that a future employer would not want that element representing their business? My problem with this is that it seems like a highly unregulated form of discrimination. There can be no more questions asked in interviews about religion, or whether a woman is married or plans on having children in the immediate future; but now, companies have a quickstop shop for many of those answers. Have a prejudice against atheists/Hindus/Buddhists? Can't ask? Check the Facebook! Want to know that person's sexual orientation/history, but those pesky laws get in the way? Facebook to the rescue! And since there is no outward discriminatory behaviors other than the fact that the person in question didn't get the job, there is potentially no recourse to correct the situation.

I am slightly fearful of the new technological culture that seems to operate under the assumption that unless an event or emotion is documented to its fullest extent and seen by hundreds of people, it did not really happen. I am suspicious of a movement that seems to perpetuate the idea of celebrity. I question the motives of people who put up picture after picture of themselves in Playboy poses; who are photographed with bongs in their hands, with beer cans when they are underage. But at the end of the day, I do not believe those should be deciding factors in who to hire and who to accept. Colleges and businesses do have to be aware of their image, yes. But a raucous party held at the age of 16, though showing poor judgement in that instance, should not necessarily negatively impact that person's life just because there is photo evidence. And if Facebook pages and Myspace pages are being scanned for material that colleges and businesses will find harmful to their businesses, then there should be some sort of parameter; some sort of guide for those being scrutinized. Otherwise, Facebook and Myspace pages have the potential to just become names on a screen, with no discernible personality traits or interests.

I understand that privacy doesn't necessarily apply to the internet. That what I write here could be found one day, and it could affect my future. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it should. And it doesn't mean that Facebooks and Myspaces and sites of that ilk should be used as a deciding factor any more than shoeboxes full of pictures or notes passed in Geometry are -which is to say, not at all.


MediaMaven said...

I tend to think people are too paranoid about this. There are privacy protections in place, especially on Facebook, and it is up to the user to set boundaries. A person cannot look at another person's profile unless they are both in the same network, and even then that person has to allow it.

In truth, though, everyone will be disqualified for something if everything in their past is brought up. Everyone has said or done something stupid that has shown appalling lack of judgment. Schools don't have the time to Google every one of their applicants, and a company's vetting process would only be complicated by viewing MySpaces. A profile, like a resume, is only a series of statements; personality and character is not always apparent.

John said...

I'm reminded of former Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy's famous declaration regarding privacy in the Information Age: "You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it."

While this may be seen as a great short-term fix for employers right now, the sad truth is that two things will happen: First, potential applicants will start backing up their accounts and deleting them whenever they're applying for jobs (unless they have effective privacy settings.)
Second, employers who use this tool will eventually discover that the employees they hired who have "clean" social network pages aren't better employees, they're just better liars.