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HPC blog When I wrote this blog about how a recent research study correlated social network behavior with employee success, I speculated that we’d soon see employers trying to circumvent Facebook’s privacy policies in order to get a good look at your Facebook pages.

Well, it turns out that some employers aren’t happy with just seeing the public part of applicant profiles; they’re actually asking prospective employees to turn over their Facebook login and password. Wait, did I get that right? (Looks again.) Yeah, I did. They’re outright asking applicants to give them their Facebook login details as part of the interview screening process.

Other companies are requesting that prospective (and presumably current) employees "friend" HR reps or background-checkers on Facebook. Others are requiring applicants to log in to their Facebook accounts from a company-owned computer – I guess they take screen scrapes of the page for later study, or maybe capture the login keystrokes.

If a company requires you to give them an intimate view of your social networking pages during the interview process, might there be something in the employment agreements that gives them the “right” to take a second, third, or fourth look – whenever they want to – after you’re hired?

All of these practices (and more) are outlined in this Associated Press article.

There’s a fine line between vetting candidates and invading their privacy. In my mind, much of what these companies are asking isn’t just stepping over the line – it’s grabbing the line and flailing you with it.

Others are requiring employees to sign non-disparagement agreements to prevent them from pouring slime on the company in social nets during or after employment. It will be highly interesting to see if – and how – any of these agreements are enforced. "Disparagement" is very much in the eye of the beholder, and often hard to objectively define.

If you work in a restaurant and write a post alleging that your co-workers put unspeakable things in the Friday lunch special, that’s pretty clear-cut disparagement. But if you simply post that you wish the restaurant were better supervised, so that employees can’t put unspeakable things in the Friday lunch special – is that disparaging? Yeah, it probably is, even if it’s true.

We all have to assume that anything we put on the web is something that our employer – or mother – will be able to see. (Well, not my mother. I just spent 27 minutes on the phone talking her through playing a DVD on her TV. I’m a nice boy, though – barely yelled at all.)

I think that we’ll see a few trends emerge from this level of social networking scrutiny. First, employees and prospective employees will pay more attention to what they post and what they allow on their pages. Second, I think that more people will have private social network personas, using secondary accounts under nicknames or pseudonyms. (My favorite fake names: "Brody McCracken" and "Dirk Steele", both are guys who make their own rules and don’t care what “The Man” thinks.)

I also predict that corporate HR departments are going to become the new hotbed for fun as they sift through the most embarrassing Facebook pages imaginable, then send around the results tagged with “What the hell were they thinking?” and “Lots of things sound funny when you’re that drunk.” ®

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