Skip to content

F-Bombs, Social Media and Law Students’ World of Opportunity

10:00 am 2012 April 9
by Jayme Soulati

You may already be aware of the recent hubbub over an employer seeking the log-in and password for a potential job candidate’s Facebook account. You can read the accounting of the situation here and here.  You can also read the backlash all over, but here are some examples to refresh your recollection about the inanity of the entire issue.

Since when should employers gain access to a job candidate’s personal Facebook account?  When someone goes through the customary interview process that includes:

  • Resume review
  • Skype interviews
  • Reference checks
  • In-person interviews
  • Background check
  • School transcripts
  • Writing samples
  • Personality/behavioral profile assessments
  • Review of bar exam scores and law school documents
  • Etc.

…then why on earth should having access to a Facebook account tip the scale towards a to hire/not to hire decision?

What about this option?

The job applicant allows someone from the recruiting team to like their Facebook page for 24 hours and that person can go take a gander around the applicant’s timeline.  Then, everyone agrees to unlike the relationship. This is not my preference; in fact, I have zero preference for abiding by these requests.

What opinion might you have on this, law students?

If you’re the final of two candidates for a choice position in a law firm and you get asked for your Facebook password as the final step before an offer, what will you do? There’s no certainty this will happen, but it’s a question you ought to prepare for.

Twitter, Too

There’s one more thought to share about the boundaries of social media, and this story comes courtesy of Above The Law:

A high school senior (with three months to go) was expelled, not suspended, due to his use of an f-bomb laden tweet he alleges was posted from home and not from school. The principal apparently monitors all tweets of all students at Garrett (IN) High School; this act was allegedly considered seriously egregious and the boy fell victim to the zero tolerance rule.

Hard core? In my opinion, absolutely…as said in Above The Law, the tweet (with  a majority of f-bombs) was not bullying, did not attack a certain person, was not blaspheming faculty or the school and was written by a teenage boy with three months to go until graduation.

Watch for what the parents will do next to get their boy reinstated; should be interesting.

What these several examples boil down to are more of what’s to come. Those of you entering internet law, rights to privacy, protection of identity and, the scope of “fair use” and the boundaries of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act have a world of opportunity ahead with the convergence of social media on all aspects of employment, education, careers, personal and professional branding, and life in general.

Thoughts from Bruce MacEwen

I invited Bruce MacEwen, Esq., president of JD Match and founder of Adam Smith, Esquire to weigh in, and he shares:

“The real problem here is that “zero tolerance” mentality.  Were these authorities never young?  Did they never make a mistake?  Did they never do anything they regretted later—possibly years later?

How about a small dose of plain old human perspective and common sense?  Let’s face it: The overwhelming majority of private, personal activities are just that:  Private and personal.  They have nothing to do with job performance or job potential.

Of course, if those authorities can’t see their way to a modicum of temperance on this front, I have another idea:  Job seekers can reveal their Facebook passwords on condition the children of the authorities do the same to the job seeker.”

What’s your thinking, dear readers?

13 Responses
  1. April 9, 2012

    It’s absolutely preposterous to expect that this type of brazen breach of privacy should even be allowed. A great post in terms of the longer term reprecussions are detailed in this fictional resignation letter

    I suspect, however, it will only be those partners at major law firms embrace the changing landscape of technology, such as social media, and leverage it as a tool to have a conversation and truly engage in meaningful and helpful conversations, and of course branding as well.

  2. April 9, 2012

    Hi, Will…thanks for sharing thoughts. Did that post really get ~3900 tweets, etc.?? That’s astonishing and well done, of course.

    What’s happening as we observe are parties trying to retain the upper hand over employees/students/charges who insist on communicating in ways others cannot allow regardless of whether it’s personal.

    A few years back, I recall lecturing to a college class on social media and informed them “nothing is private on Facebook.” Well, I hate to be boring, but “nothing is private on Facebook.”

    • April 11, 2012

      Hi Jayme,

      Yes it did really get that number of tweets as it illustrated the problem in a story that we can all relate to.

      I’d agree with your statement “nothing is private on Facebook” as well. I read in an article a few days ago that really resonated with me and relates to Facebook or any free app or website that doesn’t charge: “If you’re not paying for the product, you become the product”

      - Will

      • April 11, 2012

        I love that statement, Will! “If you’re not paying for the product, you become the product.”

        I wrote at my house today about Facebook Owns Instagram, Will You Stay? One can take a similar approach; all the Instagrammers who expect status quo when not a one of us has paid for anything.

        Heck, we even downloaded the app free, and there are 30 million users. FREE costs money, but FREE creates confusion.

  3. April 9, 2012

    Excellent post on this subject, Jayme. And thank-you for reiterating in your last comment that “nothing is private on Facebook.” I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but we should not think anything is ever private if shared online, period. Until people get that through their heads and live by it, they’re going to continue to post things that come back to haunt them later.

    Now, to your post and the subject of employers wanting access to social media profiles: There are a few cases where I would stand by an employer’s request (even a requirement) to see a Facebook profile, and where a potential hire’s refusal would immediately cause me to dismiss them as a candidate. One of those is in the employ of a religious organization, perhaps as a youth pastor or youth leader. The values, judgement and behavior of anyone working with children or teens in a spiritually mentoring position must be above reproach, for obvious reasons. One bad apple can bring down an entire ministry, and after what happened in the Catholic Church, all churches must be especially careful here. Interviews, background checks, and references have always been the only tool at hand to judge someone’s suitability for a religious position, but social media provides a way to see what the potential hire is really like when he or she isn’t “performing for the audience,” so to speak.

    I might say the same for anyone I was hiring to be a nanny for my children, if I had any of that age. It’s easy to talk the talk about the values I want my nanny to have, but do they walk the walk?

    Or how about a hire for either a slaughterhouse, a politically-charged community organization like ACORN, or an abortion clinic? With all the secret videotaping of what goes on behind the scenes in these industries, it would behoove an employer to see what the potential hire’s REAL beliefs are, and a Facebook profile is an easy way to do that. If a potential hire for one of those industries said, “No way!” I’d dismiss them immediately. As a citizen, since that would hamper the exercise of freedom of the press, I’d prefer Facebook profiles be kept off-limits in cases like that, but if I were an employer in any of those situations, I’d feel very, very differently.

    I love your idea of “let them in for 24 hours, then unfriend them.” That lets the employee go back to having a place to let their hair down.

    What do you think? Am I off-base?

    • April 9, 2012

      Michelle, you ALWAYS offer incredible insight that pushes the envelope for new thinking. As I was reading and pondering your examples, I began to nod in agreement. Then, I thought about all the other ways we can check into backgrounds and credibility and reputation (ahem, how about a Klout score?!).

      The post above provides 10 ways law students can be checked as potential hires, and I’m sure there are 10 ways to check into background on a nanny.

      As for the youth minister, you are the expert in this regard, and I would have to agree — triple checks on folks seeking entree into such a program is probably commonplace.

      But, relinquishing a Facebook password is ridiculous! How about sending screen shots?! All of our posts and timeline are dated; shoot, I think that’s actually a brilliant alternative (I hadn’t thought of that until now).

      I couldn’t agree with you more — having the affirmation that the person sitting in front of you is who they say they are is so necessary. And, yet, what it often comes down to is sitting side by side at the desk to see someone’s true character.

      Thanks for your insight and further thoughts! Very appreciated!

      • April 9, 2012

        I think relinquishing passwords is crossing the line because of private messages. I write “private” (I use that term loosely) messages to people seeking my counsel, and it would be completely inappropriate for a potential employer to be made privy to someone else’s messages to me. That doesn’t mean I believe those messages are really private, because I know that either party — myself or the counselee — can take screen shots of our back-and-forth and share them with the world! Still, I’m especially cognizant of the privacy of those who write to me, and I routinely delete whole “conversations” I’ve had, to protect them from possible embarrassment should anyone ever get access to my Facebook profile.

        The screenshots you recommend are somewhat of an alternative, but anyone wanting to pull the wool over a potential employer’s eyes would simply delete any content that didn’t fit the mold, and take a screenshot of what was left. That’s much, much more difficult to do when an employer is scrolling backwards on your Timeline while you sit there.

        I don’t think seeing a potential employee’s Facebook profile is appropriate for all professions, but for some, absolutely.

        • April 10, 2012

          Thanks, Michelle, for a second comment on the topic.

          Regardless of our views, it’s a worm’s nest for sure. More of these absurd issues will arise, and the good people in this community will write the associated laws. Let’s hope we can educate the elders first to understand exactly what it is we’re all doing and how fantastic social media is and can be (when used appropriately, that is!).

  4. Tina Musgrove permalink
    April 9, 2012

    I tend to equate Facebook privacy with things like reading someone else’s mail! If an employer (or anyone else without a court order based on probable cause to believe I may be committing some type of crime) asked me for my password, there is no way I would give it to him or her – anymore than I would hand over my PIN for my checking account or voicemail; my cell phone text mesages or the contents of my lingerie drawer.

    Those things are mine. They’re private – and valuing my privacy does not mean I am doing something wrong. As a member of the legal profession, I hold the Constitution in very high regard and demand adherence to my right to be secure in my personal papers and effects (which now includes digital ones). If an employer turned me down because I refused to give him my credit card number, wouldn’t that be wrong? Even illegal? Same goes for my private information, including passwords and PIN numbers that are solely my own.

    Maybe adding the employer as a friend on Facebook could set his fears at ease while not violating the job-seeker. Even in my closest, most intimate friendships, I personally still hold some things back. Unless you’re writing diary entries for 600 of your “closest friends” to comment on, I don’t see the problem there.

    Language usage is a personal choice as well. The facist principal in the above scenario should be ashamed of himself for deigning to destroy a young man’s life over a 200 character or less “tweet” the guy didn’t agree with! I don;t personally drop the f*bomb as often as some people I know but it’s just a word…the intollerance shown by expelling that young man demonstrates why people like that stiflingly absurd principal should not be allowed to work with adolescents who do all sorts of crazy stuff when first finding themselves and their own beliefs.

    Doing wild and crazy things are an expected right of passage for teenagers. We should hope the worst thing that kid (or any kid his age) does is say a few curse words! Geez…ever heard of a beer bong? Nuff said…

    Tina M. Musgrove

    • April 10, 2012

      Hi, Tina; thanks so very much for this spot-on comment. You probably just represented 500 opinions with your summary.

      Your first statement won me over…you’re right…behind our public facing profiles, we have personality that shines amongst friends. When employers breach this boundary searching for (what, exactly?), it does feel like someone pawing through a lingerie drawer. Sick.

      I am hopeful the high schooler’s parents get a great lawyer to turn that principal around. Harsh and unnecessary treatment with three months to go. I wonder if some of the students in that high school have a petition going to reinstate the young man…I’m going to have to check, as I need to add my name.

      Thanks for commenting; appreciate it!

  5. April 10, 2012

    As a Recruiter, I have on occasion researched potential candidates on Facebook. There are webinars all the time about how to recruit using Facebook as a search option.
    I have advised friends and family members about privacy options and still am amazed that people do not exercise them. That being said, as much as it turns my stomach, if I were asked to reveal my FB information in order to get that much closer to a great job, I would do it, and I think that others out there would do the same. As an employer, I would NEVER ask anyone for this information.
    I am wondering if colleges are advising people/students about their online presence. I know I have tried to do this in my own family and have been promptly “un-friended”.

  6. April 10, 2012

    Hi, Rebecca! We all wear many hats, for sure. I particularly value your thoughts as a recruiter. The point is, if a candidate has anything seemingly negative that would bar a job offer, they ought to begin cleaning that up pronto; on the flip side, your comment about NEVER asking for this as an employer is the crux of the matter!

    If/when more employers begin asking for passwords, I can see viral social taking off in and black lists created (should the practice get out of hand).

    As to your last point…being unfriended by family may not be a bad thing? :-)

    Thanks for your thoughts here!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The Millennial Series: Say No To Sharing Facebook Passwords |

Comments are closed.