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by Phil Stott | March 12, 2012


There's only really one answer to that question … right?

Most people wouldn't dream of handing the keys to their Facebook profile—or any of their other social media profiles—to anyone, let alone an employer. That's why Facebook has privacy settings in the first place, however maligned they may be.

But that doesn't mean your employer—or an interviewer—isn't going to ask for that access. And current law doesn't seem to prohibit the practice.

According to a recent MSN Money article, some employees, job applicants and even college athletes have found themselves facing requests to hand over passwords. The article cites a 2010 case involving a Maryland corrections officer who was asked to provide his Facebook login and password to the Maryland Division of Corrections (DOC) during a recertification interview.  According to the ACLU of Maryland—to whom the officer complained—he then "had to sit there while the interviewer logged on to his account and read not only his postings, but those of his family and friends too."

While the furor over the case means that the DOC no longer requires such a procedure, officers are still asked "to voluntarily log onto their accounts and allow interviewers to watch." The same article also reports that college athletes are pressured to "friend" coaches or compliance officers.

The rationale for companies and colleges is obvious: they're looking to learn more about employees and students, and to protect themselves from "misuse" of the sites by employees (where "misuse" is defined as "anything that the company doesn't think should be shared"). 

But asking individuals for access to private social networking accounts is a major step too far—even if there are no laws currently on the books that directly prohibit it. 

While the issue raises questions over First Amendment protections, those aren't a lot of help in the moment should you find yourself receiving such a request—especially if there's a job hanging on your answer. 

So what can you do? 

If you're of a mind to refuse, by all means do so—as nicely and as firmly as possible. But don't be surprised if you don't get called back for a follow-up interview. (In which case, getting a copy of the request in writing may not be a bad idea, should you wish to explore the issue of First Amendment rights further.)

However, if you decide that landing or keeping the job trumps a temporary invasion of your privacy, there are a couple of options. 

One approach is simply to let it all hang out. There's very little on the average person's Facebook wall that would discount them from most employment opportunities and, assuming your profile doesn't contain lurid details of a your life as a narcotics trafficker (or, worse, a Farmville addict), you should be fine.

Another option starts well in advance of any interview, and has long been a best practice technique for social media in the first place: make sure there's nothing objectionable about your profile in the first place. Some people even maintain profiles with fake names where they do their real networking, and keep an "official" account purely for professional purposes.

For those seeking to professionalize their profile, check out the following slideshow for 10 tips on what employers are actually looking for, and how you can avoid any serious social media faux pas.


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