Online Reputation Management Blog

Is Employer Access to Facebook and Twitter an Invasion of Privacy?

It’s common knowledge that colleges, employers and potential dates are checking you out on Facebook and Twitter.  In response, you’ve probably taken every opportunity to batten down the hatches from unwanted social media snooping by parents, coworkers, employers and your ex, painstakingly reading the fine print each time Facebook makes a privacy update.  Last week, MSNBC reported that some colleges and employers, frustrated that they can no longer use public profiles on these sites to “stalk” their applicants, are actually requesting full access — even private pages — on social media sites so they can monitor every status update, tweet and embarrassing picture you post.

One employer, Maryland state’s Department of Corrections, doesn’t request the passwords anymore (the ACLU put a stop to that), but asks that the applicant log in to Facebook during the interview and click through the site while the interviewer watches.  This is voluntary, but applicants are submitting to it for fear that not doing so would cost them the job.

Another group facing restrictions are student-athletes.  Many colleges, like the University of North Carolina, request that a designated coach/administrator on each sports team has access to the athletes’ social networking page.

The reasoning behind these two examples is probably understandable: the employer doesn’t want to risk hiring anyone with gang affiliations, and the school wants to ensure their athletes are adhering to the student-athlete conduct code.  But where is the line drawn when it comes to requesting access to an private and personal information?  Is email access far behind?  Or, as one attorney in the MSNBC article notes, will employers ask to “bug” our homes?

According to the article, Maryland has begun proposing laws prohibiting employers from asking for passwords; Illinois is considering similar legislation.  However, the responsibility ultimately resides within each of us who use social media.  Thanks to our Constitution, we all enjoy free speech.  But we don’t need to say everything that pops into our heads or show pictures of every private moment.  Even when using the highest privacy settings available, it’s important to use social media responsibly.  Unless of course, you don’t mind your boss looking at your honeymoon pictures or girlfriend’s late night status updates…

What do you think?

Is it wrong for employers or prospective employers to request access to your personal social media pages?

Facebook Timeline – The Time is Now!

Over the next few weeks, everyone on Facebook is going to “upgrade” to Timeline, a profile update that shares your history and online activity since you first joined Facebook with… just about everyone. When you get Timeline, you will have seven days to preview the content — just enough time to delete your Spring Break pictures before your Mom finds them.

Like that baby book that your parents didn’t quite get around to finishing, you can fill in information from your pre-Facebook years (remember those?) using the new status update box, which is pretty easy to update with those special moments you don’t want to forget (or can’t really remember), like your first date or your 21st birthday party.

If you want to see how your timeline appears to other people, click the gear menu at the top of your timeline, and select “View As.” You can preview how your Timeline appears to a specific person or the public.

To feature something on your Timeline, scroll over the post and click the star to expand it to two columns. Or you can click the pencil to hide, delete or edit a post.

Use the Privacy dropdown to change who can see your posts. You can even select “Only Me” for posts you want to save but don’t want to be visible to others.

For more tips on Facebook privacy, check out our recent post: How to Change Your Facebook Privacy Settings.

If you just can’t wait to share your Yearbook photos with your boss, you can get Timeline right now. Go to the Introducing Timeline page and click “Get Timeline.”

How to Change Your Facebook Privacy Settings

With the introduction of Timelines and Open Graph at Facebook’s recent f8 conference, many people are concerned about the impact of these changes on online privacy. On Facebook, your name and username, profile picture, gender, user ID/account number and networks are visible to anyone.

If you are one of Facebook’s 800 million users, and you are concerned about who can access your personal information online, it takes only a minute to go private.

Follow these 8 steps below to secure your account and take control over your online image.

1. Log into your Facebook account and click on the dropdown arrow next to “Home” on the upper right hand corner. Use the drop down and click on the “Privacy Settings” link.

2. Under “Control Your Default Privacy,” click on the “Custom” link.

3. The screen will show you four options to select:  “Friends of Friends,” “Friends,” “Specific People or Lists” and “Only Me.” You can also hide posts from specific people or lists by typing the name in the blank space provided.

4. Then, scroll down to the “How You Connect” section.  Click on “Edit Settings” and after the popup use the drop down menus on the right side of your screen to select who you want to view this information.

5. Next, be sure to click “Edit Settings” to the right of the “How Tags Work” section.  A popup window will appear and you can adjust the “Maximum Profile Visibility” settings and adjust your default settings to “Off.”

6. Scroll down to the “Apps and Websites” section.  Click the “Edit Settings” link and follow the drop down menus on the right side of your popup to restrict which apps, games and websites you share your information with.

7. Click on the “Limit the Audience for Past Posts” link to protect information you may have shared publicly in the past.

8. Scroll to the top of the “Privacy” settings page  to make sure that your new settings have all been applied.

Tell all your “Friends” how easy it is to change your privacy settings on Facebook and protect your privacy.

NLRB Defends Employee Free Speech on Facebook

In my post, Do You Need a Social Media Policy, I mentioned that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) released a recent report detailing the outcome of its investigations into 14 cases involving employee use of social media and employers’ social media policies.

In four cases involving employees’ use of Facebook, the NLRB’s Division of Advice found that the employees were engaged in “protected concerted activity” because they were discussing terms and conditions of employment with fellow employees. In five other cases involving Facebook or Twitter posts, the NLRB found that the activity was not protected.

Two weeks ago, in Hispanics United of Buffalo, Inc. v. Ortiz, an Administrative Law Judge ruled that five employees who were terminated because of comments they made on their Facebook page should be rehired.  The judge ordered the employees back to work, and held that the employees must be paid for their time off.

The Facebook conversations took place on a Saturday (outside of work hours) and involved a coworker who seemed to think her fellow employees were not doing enough to help their clients and the angry response by the affected employee followed by some crude complaints about working conditions by other employees.

The cases that have come before the NLRB, are generally decided on question of whether the social media activity of an employee is “concerted activity” that would be protected under the law and/or whether the employer’s social media policy is overly broad.

In this most recent case, the judge noted that “[e]mployees have a protected right to discuss matters affecting their employment amongst themselves.”  The fact that the protected discussion is taking place in a public setting, visible to millions of non-employees for an indefinite period of time, did not affect the ultimate resolution of the case.

In the context of the NLRB’s social media decisions, factors used to determine whether the employee activity is “concerted activity” typically include:

  • Whether the employee discussed the post with other employees
  • Whether other employees responded to the posts
  • Whether the post was intended to prompt group action
  • Whether the post represented the collective concerns of employees

Individual concerns or complaints about an employer, broadly publicized on the internet, are unlikely to be deemed protected activity.  However, as some of the cases illustrate, in the 24/7 workplace, the intersection of work and social network can blur.

Policies that would “reasonably tend to chill employees in the exercise of their rights” under the National Labor Relations Act, including the right to engage in protected concerted activity, are unlawful.

The lessons gleaned from recent NLRB case law indicate that companies will need to carefully balance their online reputation management goals with labor law requirements.