The growing influence and significance of social media in today’s society is undeniable. Facebook and Twitter have impacted our lives so much that they have re-invented the usage of certain words – “to friend” “to Facebook” and “to favorite” – which have been added to everyday speech, and even the dictionary. The purpose of social media is to allow us to stay in contact with friends abroad, to reconnect with long-lost friends, to forge a friendship with a new acquaintance and to make our lives public. In recent years, however, the media have also proven useful for employers who want to find out more about employees by perusing their online profiles.
The dynamics of the workplace and the traditional way of employing people are changing; some employers have taken the “public” aspect of social media too literally and feel as if it is their right not only to look through profiles of potential candidates but also to demand passwords from them. Some employers regard the change as ensuring a more thorough recruitment process, of weeding the ordinary from the extraordinary candidate; others see it as unjust and unnecessary. Solutions to this ongoing debate about the rights of employers range from discouraging people from maintaining online profiles to changing their profile names or even deleting their accounts temporarily. However, those opposed to the practices by employers stand their ground by affirming that employees’ personal lives should have no bearing on their professional ones and that nobody should have to resort to such drastic actions.
People need to be cautious about what they publish, share and say on their online profiles, as they never know who could be monitoring them and what others might conclude from what they see. SNOPA (Social Networking Online Protection Act), which bans employers and institutions of higher education from requesting and requiring an individual’s username and password for an online profile, was assigned to a congressional committee in April 2012, and is the first step towards a total ban of this sort of employer practice. A small group of states, including Maryland, New Jersey and California, has shown support for the ban by enacting laws that have made illegal the practice of employers requesting social media passwords.
The issue, however, does not stop with the employment process; some companies use social media to spy on their current employees and to delve into their lives. In several cases, an employee has been fired due to “social media rants,” but rulings by The National Labor Relations Board deem such comments valid as long as they aim to improve work conditions. Although an employer’s motivation for “spying” on employees is seen as admirable by anyone who argues that illegal activity can be recognized and prevented, opposing arguments maintain that it is an invasion of privacy, against the First Amendment and that personal life has no bearing on professional life.
With the recognition of this “invasion” as immoral and, by extension, illegal, in some states by certain lawmakers, the question of an employer’s surveillance of social media surely has an answer: SNOPA needs to be pushed through to ensure the banning and punishment of employers who look at employees’ online profiles. Although this scenario still presents some grey areas, such as the future legitimate use should someone’s welfare be threatened, and may seem quite drastic, this is the right direction.
The issue of social media’s role in worker employment and employer’s rights extends further than Facebook and other forms of social media; the debate continues into how much security we currently have. Advertisements that pop up on pages we view can be based on our viewing history, be it a book, a travel deal or a t-shirt. Whether this, too, is an invasion of privacy is yet to be determined but no doubt there is some unrest at the apparent breach of supposed security we currently possess and may even take for granted.
I believe we need to question the legitimacy of these practices and the effectiveness of Facebook’s privacy policies, in particular. In my work, showcased in this Prezi presentation, I hope to address and argue these issues and present a balanced debate. I created the #EyeCanSee campaign to increase awareness of the use of social media as “recruitment tools” and how people should exercise caution. I target those looking for work or those already in the work force by placing my message in areas of maximum exposure, such as online platforms and public transportation areas. The campaign centers around the image of an eye, which has historically been associated with surveillance and protection, and whose origins date back to the Ancient Egyptians’ Eye of Horus. The image of an eye is the commonplace element that exists throughout all my posters and it features very heavily on the Facebook page. I thought that a natural complement with the image would be the play on words (“eye” instead of “I”). The campaign focuses more on Facebook, as regardless of implemented privacy policies and settings, more of your personal life is exposed than on Twitter where, should a profile be private, close to no information is made public. As regards color choice, in my opinion, a monochromatic scheme but with occasional blocks of red and blue is more eye-catching than a multi-colored advertisement that might blend into the background with the others.
I felt it necessary to enter this rhetorical ecology – the environment encompassing all different forms of media that use terminology and images and themes relating to this topic – to raise awareness. By appealing heavily to people’s emotions, I hoped that I would worry readers about their current situation and heighten their online security measures, as doing so could save their privacy in the future.
Patrick Lim is an International Politics major at Georgetown University. He researched, created and wrote this campaign and its accompanying statement for his freshman Rhetoric class. Upon graduation, Patrick hopes to attend law school.