Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Is a law the right way to approach this?  The last few years I was working and hiring software engineers, I routinely checked social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to find out a bit more about a candidate.  A significant fraction of the younger candidates would have things publicly posted on social media that seemed quite inappropriate in a business setting.  These ranged from rants about former employers, to personal comments about other people, to nude, raunchy, or even incriminating photos and videos of themselves and others. 

I think there are two interesting questions here. 

First, is this phenomenon actually a problem?  Such behavior certainly can affect a person's future employment and personal life.  If you were an employer, would you knowingly hire a young woman who bragged on Facebook about offering (and having) sex with former boss to avoid being laid off?  Or a young man who posted a video of himself sniffing a line of cocaine?  Or another young man who had tweeted vile anti-Semitic rants about his former co-workers?  All of these are actual candidates I interviewed, and I hired none of them – because I saw these social media postings, and decided that they showed me enough about the candidate for me to say no.  Is that actually a bad thing?  In another case, I had a woman in her late 20s apply who had posted several photos of herself on Facebook, topless at a beach in Brazil.  Those photos didn't indicate anything dangerous or unsavory about her, so I let her go through our normal hiring process.  We didn't end up hiring her, but those photos weren't the reason – we just didn't think her skills matched our needs.  So while some might consider those photos inappropriate, they didn't affect her chances on being hired by my company.  So what is the problem?  It seems to me that these postings are just another source of information about a candidate for an employer, one that – just like every other source – must be used carefully and cautiously to help make a hiring decision.

The second question is whether a new law is the right way to deal with this, if you believe it is a problem.  California (of course!) just passed such a law.  I haven't read the law myself, but if the linked story is accurate the law requires social media sites to let people know they can erase information (including posts, photos, etc.), and it requires them to provide a way to do so.  That's about the least-objectionable way they could have tried to handle it, and while I'm a little uncomfortable with any law about this, I don't have a strong objection to it.  I can imagine much worse laws, though – just imagine what Bloomy might do with this...

But then, I'm not inclined to think there's a problem here in the first place...

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