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Diversity Diva

Social Media Policies On The Wrong Side Of A Diversity Issue

Michelle T. Johnson
Contributor: Michelle T. Johnson
Posted: 04/22/2012
If you are involved in any Social Media sites at all, particularly Facebook or Twitter, one topic that's all the rage is the issue of prospective employers having the ability to access the Facebook pages of applicants.

Now, if you’re not someone who "does" Facebook, that has as much relevance as a meteor launched from Jupiter hitting Mars. And if you’re someone who is what they call a "lurker"-- meaning you have a Facebook account to see what other people are up to, but you never post any updates yourself-- then you may have a modicum more interest in this than the non-Facebook folks.

Granted, even if you don’t personally have an interest in Facebook, if you have any respect for privacy, you know this issue is a problem.

Privacy issues aside (and that is a pretty big "aside" for me), any company that engages in this policy is putting themselves on the wrong side of a diversity issue, if not an outright discrimination issue.
I’ve said it before and I’ll always say that people need to be careful about what they share on the social media, especially if they have been careless about their privacy settings.
But-- and this is a huge but-- people shouldn’t have to be paranoid about writing something personal that is just for their Facebook friends.
A good example, is the media attention on the Trayvon Martin shooting, especially the fever pitch it reached before George Zimmerman, the shooter, was arrested.
I personally have a wide degree of diversity among a large collection of Facebook friends. However, I noted that most of my black Facebook friends who post regularly were posting a lot about the Martin shooting. Some were being more outspoken than others about racism. Some didn’t personally write anything but posted links to stories. The volume of posts directed to this topic was particularly staggering.
That stood out to me, because most of my many Facebook friends who are not black weren’t touching that topic with a 10-foot pole.
A close friend of mine said that as a white person, her perspective was that many (if not most) whites were very scared about the black anger over this incident. We had a lengthy discussion about the range of that fear, but I had no doubt that while fear may have been too strong a word for some, discomfort was completely accurate word for most.

That said, just think of a prospective white employer looking at the Facebook page of a black applicant. Even if the applicant wasn’t a prolific poster his or her self, it’s very likely the employer rep looking at the page would see a lot of postings from the applicants’ Facebook friends that might cast the applicant in a "scary" light.
To use another example, let’s just say that a young man right out of college posts lots of risque comments about the looks of various women-- unguarded, amusing comments that his fellow Facebook buddies would find funny, and that they contribute to by adding their own spicy little comments.
Say this young man has used private settings and has had enough sense not to include as his Facebook friends anyone who would be offended these comments.
Until the female HR person in a job interview asks him to log on to his account in the middle of the interview. Suddenly, whether he is told this or not, either the woman is personally offended and doesn’t hire him or she sees him as potential sexual harassment risk and doesn’t hire him.
A prospective employer looking at your Facebook page with private settings, is to me, the equivalent of them demanding to see your diary, listen to your old voice mail messages or disguise themselves to come to a private party you are hosting.
An employer always has a right to know that they are hiring a person with good judgment. Whether the job is as janitor’s assistant or whether the job is as chief financial officer.
If a job hunter isn’t savvy enough to put their Facebook page on private setting while simultaneously posting status updates that put them in a dicey light, that’s one thing. But if the person is doing everything in his or her power to keep their private conversation private, they shouldn’t be at risk at losing a job opportunity because the person looking at their Facebook page doesn’t like their position on social issues or their politics or jokes, or worse-- the positions, opinions and jokes of the applicant’s Facebook friends.
Employers and prospective employers already have lot of power to be able to run a background check on applicants.

So, if under the law, a company doesn’t have the legal right to ask you personal questions that are directly related to what they are hiring you for, they shouldn’t be able to figure it out from forcing you to show them your Facebook page.
Michelle T. Johnson
Contributor: Michelle T. Johnson
Posted: 04/22/2012