Take Facebook. Thanks to Mark Zuckerberg’s pet project, I have reconnected with a few hundred people I always meant to stay in touch with, but didn’t. In scanning my “friends” list, I can trace my life in relationships:
1. Family, including some distant relatives I had totally lost track of.
2. People from my formative years, from my best friend in first grade (now a police officer in a neighboring county) to my prom date (now a pastor up north) to my high school drama director (happily retired and back home in Indiana)
3. A passel of friends from college, including sorority sisters and fellow journalism majors
4. Friends from church
5. Friends from “wherever”: former co-workers, spouses of Husband’s friends, people with whom I share a common interest.
6. Professional contacts: board members, committee members, one-time supervisors and those whom I once supervised.
Not surprisingly, I don’t post things on Facebook unless I am comfortable with all six groups seeing what I have written. Thus, I don’t grouse about my friends, my relatives or my employer. Even though my profile technically is “private,” I know on any given day a few hundred people see it … and they tell two friends, and they tell two friends and so on and so on and so on. News travels fast on Facebook – but somehow good old-fashioned word of mouth still trumps it as the quickest way to move information – and misinformation.
Lately, there’s been some buzz about employers asking job candidates for passwords to their social media accounts. Sure, you can’t ask me directly to provide certain bits of information as part of the interview process – i.e. marital status, religious affiliation or age – but you can ask for the password to an account that doubtlessly will reveal a good bit of personal information you couldn’t get otherwise.
Not surprisingly, this practice has a lot of critics. In the days before Facebook, a prospective employer never would have asked to tap my phone, steam open my mail or read my diary. So why ask for the same information – shared in a casual setting – via a virtual community?
Let me say I have never understood an employer’s desire to get personal information about an employee or a prospective employee. Frankly, it’s none of their business what I do in my off hours – unless it affects how I behave in my workday or somehow reflects poorly on the organization. You don’t get to ask questions about my marriage, my hobbies or my enthusiasms. I show up. I do my work. I get along with the people with whom and for whom I do my job. Whether I go to an Obama rally, play in a bell choir or have a tiff with my spouse over leaving the toilet seat up really isn’t relevant.
Still, within the issue is a teachable moment. If you have something going on in your life that you want to keep private, don’t put it out there in cyberspace.
I can honestly say that any employer, friend or associate is welcome to read my Facebook page, because the “private” stuff is private. I don’t post it on Facebook. I don’t tweet it on Twitter. In most cases, I don’t even put it in an email. If it is THAT important, I tell the person on the phone or face-to-face. That way, they don’t “read” something into what I’ve written.
A wise old city editor (now a friend on Facebook) told me once that people “get caught” in bad situations because they leave a paper trail – and that was before email or blogging or social networking.
If you don’t want the whole world to know your business, don’t tell them. In an increasingly small world where information is a commodity – you can still control your message.
Published: March 26, 2012