As one of the millions who previously faced unemployment in the past few years, I remember what it was like having to demean myself for the privilege of begging for a job at less than half of my former salary and sitting though horrible interviews by people with less college education and far fewer years of experience. Of all those interviews, one in particular sticks out in my mind…
I wasn’t five minutes into the interview when the interviewer abruptly ended the meeting. I quickly checked to make sure I wasn’t drooling, did a quick rewind to make sure I hadn’t uttered an f-bomb and was quite certain I had observed all of the necessary personal hygiene rules. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I asked her exactly why I was being shown the door. “You’re just not a good ‘fit’ for the company.” Of course, I asked what I had done in such a short meeting to prove I wasn’t a good ‘fit’ for the company. She asked me to sit, expelled a long sigh and replied, “It’s your critical thinking skills.” I narrowed my eyes and didn’t move another muscle – forcing her to explain further. She sighed again. “You have them. This company is specifically looking for people with no critical thinking skills. They want people who will do as they’re told and act on orders without question. Now, before you say anything, I know that might not make sense to you, but my superiors have determined they can demand more work for less money by hiring people with no critical thinking skills – and Ms. Baker, close your mouth, your jaw is hanging.”
Well, yeah. It was hanging. Suspended in mid-air along with belief in reality in this dimension. Fuck me running.
So, this week, when every House Republican voted against a bill that would have made it illegal for employers to require your Facebook password as a condition of employment, I was hardly surprised. Republicans are pro-business and anti-labor in every imaginable way and this is a natural progression. By requiring your Facebook password, employers and potential employers have access to private communications between you and your family and friends, personal photos, information about your political opinions, sexual orientation, religion – all things that should have absolutely nothing to do with your ability to perform a job, and yet it happens every day. Some have likened it to handing over your house keys. I’ll take it a step further and say it’s like handing over your house keys to a perfect stranger and permitting them to rummage through your underwear drawer. Doesn’t get much more personal than that.
I’m no fool. I understand that Social Media websites like Facebook and Twitter are hardly private and I haven’t fooled myself into thinking otherwise, but there’s something so brazen, so like being strip-searched in this that it breaks all bounds of decency. Frankly, I’m fed up with it. House Republicans like to tout small government, but only as a matter of convenience. They want a government that can’t force you to buy health insurance, but can force a woman to divulge to her employer why she is taking contraception – and if that reason doesn’t please her employer, she can be fired. Again, Social Networking sites are hardly private, but it’s one thing for an employer to see what they can see merely by searching for your name like a Peeping Tom looking through your bedroom window at 3 am, thereby seeing what your privacy settings allow them to see. It’s quite another for them to demand your login and password – more like taking the house keys at gunpoint. Yes, it’s a hyperbolic analogy. This is an opinion column. Sue me.
I’m a Liberal Atheist who works for a fundamentalist Christian Conservative. Had he demanded my Facebook login and password, I’d have never gotten the job. Since being hired, he’s told me he’s never seen a team player like me before. He’s never had another employee as committed to the success of his business like this before. He’s never felt like he could take a day off and have the business run just as he would run it before. Turns out my personal choices and political opinions have nothing at all to do with my ability to do my job and do it better than anyone before me. Since being hired, I have an employer who permits me to do my radio show from my desk once a week. It’s a generous thing made even more generous in that he doesn’t deduct that hour from my pay and he does my job for me while I’m on the air. He feels it’s the least he can do. I feel it’s the most he can do and it’s kind beyond words. He sits every week and listens in to at least part of the show, so it didn’t take long for him to understand that he and I are on opposite ends of the political and religious spectrum, but he values me as a human being and a worker, so he feels my politics and religion shouldn’t enter into the equation. He get mad props for that. Not everyone is so lucky.
So what’s the solution until this gets sorted out for the rest of the world? I have two pieces of advice for anyone facing an upcoming interview: First, I would create a secondary account for every Social Networking site you use, connected to a ghost e-mail account. On it, would be my professional head shot. I would list my religion as “Christian” and I would, in the comments section, say something about America, Jesus and loyalty to God and country. Post something very benign on it about every third day and make sure those posts hit before and after work hours. And for the record, I do believe employers are within their rights to demand you not access your Social Networking sites during business hours, as it IS a misuse of company time. Laud family values and conservatism and you should be golden. The second thing I would do, is be prepared for the topic to come up during an interview. Since I have educated myself on the subject, I would respond to such requests with a question. “Does your request violate the ‘Stored Communications Act’?” This gets a little complicated, but this law was originally designed to keep entities like Facebook from divulging your personal information to third parties without your knowledge. It’s my understanding that the ACLU is using this same law in current litigation to prevent employers from forcing you to divulge the same information against your will and using that information against you. It will be interesting to see if the courts find that employers are included within the restrictions of that law. Further updates on those cases will be posted on this blog.
As a matter of personal safety, I have a ton of information in my Facebook profile that is simply smoke and mirrors, if you can see much beyond my profile picture and cover photo. It shows what city and state I’ve listed (false), where I went to school (false) and where I work (only partially true). If anyone believes I went to Hooterville High and live in Slicklizzard, Alabama, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.
But, I digress. Contrary to what anyone may tell you, you DO have certain rights to privacy, even on Social Networking sites. It is, however, up to you to protect that privacy, both in how you maintain your settings and in making sure you’ve set up a “smoke and mirrors” account for employers and anyone else who feels their need to know is trumped by your right to privacy.
Common sense, people.
Carol Baker is a political writer, satirist, and co-host with Vicki Childs of our Here Women Talk weekly internet talk radio show called BROADSIDED. You can hear their show every Thursday at 11 am Eastern/10 Central/8 Pacific.