Online vetting, also known as cyber-vetting is increasingly being used by potential employers and other acquaintances to vet people's online presence or "internet reputation" ("netrep") on social network services such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Bebo, and LinkedIn. Employers may check profiles, posts, and photographs for indications that the candidate is unsuitable.
Views and practice
A survey in 2007 found that half of UK employees would be outraged if their employers looked up information about them on social networking sites, and 56% thought it would be unethical. Employer surveys found that between approximately 20-67% of employers conduct internet searches, including of social networking sites, and that some have turned down applicants as a result of their searches. 21% of colleges and universities surveyed said they looked at the social networking of prospective students, usually for those applying for scholarships and other limited awards and programmes. Prospective political appointees to the Obama administration were asked to list all their blog posts, any emails, text messages, and instant messages that could suggest a conflict of interest or public source of embarrassment, the URLs of any sites that featured them in a personal or professional capacity, and all of their online aliases.
Job applicants have been refused due to criticising previous employers and discussing company information online, as well as for posting provocative and inappropriate photographs, drinking or drug use, poor communication skills, making discriminatory comments, and lying about qualifications. Several companies offer online reputation management services, including helping to remove embarrassing information from websites.
Legal experts have warned human resources departments about vetting prospective employees online, due to the possibility of discrimination and the unreliability of this information. The chairman of the UK Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety argued that it was "possibly illegal, but certainly unethical". While the Information Commissioner's Office advised that just looking at information on someone's social networking profiles would not be illegal, an employment law specialist noted that under the Data Protection Act 1998, processing and storing the information or using it to make discriminatory decisions could be.
Age discrimination might result from such a practice, due to the age profile of users of social networking sites. Failed candidates may be able to use discrimination legislation to ask about vetting operations and even ask for IT records to check access to social networks. In the US, vetting using social networking sites risks breaching the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which requires employers to gain the consent of applicants before doing a background check, state laws that limit the consideration of off-duty conduct in making employment decisions, and any searches risk breaching prohibitions against commercial use contained in the terms of service of the social networking sites.
In 2006, a trainee teacher at a high school in Pennsylvania was denied her teaching degree after her supervisor found a picture she posted on MySpace captioned "Drunken pirate" and deemed it "unprofessional". She sued, arguing that by acting on the basis of her legal out-of-hours behavior Millersville University had breached her First Amendment rights, but a federal district court ruled that the photograph was not "protected speech" under the First Amendment.
Notes and references
- "Cyber-vetting managers face backlash". Management Issues. 18 October 2007. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
- Nesbitt, Sean; Camilla Marriott; Taylor Wessing (29 October 2007). "Caught in the net". The Lawyer. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
- Hope, Christopher (23 November 2007). "Facebook posts 'could threaten your career'". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
- Greenwood, Bill (September 2009). "Facebook: The Next Great Vetting Tool?". Information Today. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
- Croll, Alistair (29 April 2010). "Promiscuous online culture and the vetting process". O'Reilly Radar. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
- Lynas, James (6 August 2007). "Social networking sites: friend or foe?". Personnel Today. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
- Phelps, David (27 June 2009). "Before a job hunt, put a lid on tweets". Star Tribune. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
- Eaton, Kim (19 August 2009). "If You're Applying for a Job, Censor Your Facebook Page". Fast Company. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
- Langfitt, Frank (15 November 2006). "Startups Help Clean Up Online Reputations". NPR. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
- Wort, Jo (24 June 2008). "Vetting through social networking sites: weekly dilemma". Personnel Today. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
- Farmer, Ben (27 November 2007). "Facebook vetting 'could be illegal'". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
- "Workplace Twittering". Cambridge News. 16 June 2009. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
- Zeidner, Rita (1 October 2007). "How Deep Can You Probe?". HR Magazine. Society for Human Resource Management. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
- Rosen, Jeffrey (19 July 2010). "The Web Means the End of Forgetting". New York Times. Retrieved 27 July 2010.
- Kennedy, Nicole; Matt Macko. "Social Networking Privacy and Its Affects [sic] on Employment Opportunities". Convenient or Invasive - The Information Age. Boulder, Colorado: Ethica Publishing.
- Davis, Donald Carrington (2006–2007). "MySpace Isn't Your Space: Expanding the Fair Credit Reporting Act to Ensure Accountability and Fairness in Employer Searches of Online Social Networking Services" (PDF). Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy. XVI (2): 237–256.