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You Were Fourteen Once Too: The Effect of Misguided Teenage Years on Future Employment

I was fourteen years old when I opened my first Facebook account. It was really quite adorable: my username was a combination of my last name and my fourteen-year-old boyfriend’s baseball number. He is long gone, but the username remains. The archives of my early Facebook years are memories that deserve to stay right where they are: far, far away. Whether it is the horrendous sentence structure, the mortifying vocabulary, or the expression of ideas that I would have never dreamed had existed in my own head I avoid recognizing the existence of my Facebook page 2006-2014. However, I find that to be a fairly general sentiment among young professionals; the wish to distance themselves from past decisions (no matter how trivial), which no longer reflect their position.

Rules and regulations regarding one’s social media activity after he obtains employment are largely understandable. When he or she becomes an employee of an organization their voice becomes a quasi-representation of the organization whether they purport to speak for the organization, or not. Regulating employees’ social media can be a necessary means for the protection of the organization’s reputation and values. But what of the prospective employee? What about those like myself who made poor choices in postings during their teen years? We know now that once information is out there, it’s out there and “privacy” on Facebook, or the like has serious and potentially costly limitations.

In 2014 CareerBuilder.com sponsored a poll exploring companies’ use of social media surveillance in hiring on new employees. The survey found that 43% of employers utilized social media in considering new candidates; a number that grew from the previous two years and one we can assume is higher today as social media continues to dominate. The sample included 5000+ hiring professionals. Findings that led to the elimination of potential candidates included: 41% for references to drinking or drug use, 32% for poor communication skills, 21% for unprofessional screen names, 46% for inappropriate photos or information, and more. (http://www.careerbuilder.com/share/aboutus/pressreleasesdetail.aspx?sd=6%2F26%2F2014&id=pr829&ed=12%2F31%2F2014).

Blurred Boundaries of the American Business Law Journal expands on the conundrum that is “social media background checks” and the right to privacy. The authors highlight the fear that, “[P]ersonal information presented out of context or inaccurately may lead employers to judge candidates unfairly without their knowledge or without providing an opportunity for rebuttal.” Further, this practice of surreptitiously obtaining candidates’ private information can, and most likely does, lead to illegal discrimination of candidates. While discrimination based on such categories as political affiliation, group membership, legal recreational activities, etc. is illegal, the covert collection of this information by employers is difficult to monitor and frankly, catch. (Abril, Patricia, Avner Levin, and Alissa Riego. “Blurred Boundaries: Social Media Privacy and the Twenty-First Century Employee.” American Business Journal (2012): n. pag. 63 Westlaw. Web.)

Traditionally, the concept of privacy is dominated by physical space. However, as our society moves in a direction in which private information is shared on more public platforms all the while maintaining the private expectation, the lines become seriously blurred. As a teenager I did not understand, nor appreciate the idea that, “Once it’s out there, it’s out there.” As I mature and become more profession-conscious, I responsibly maintain my social media activity. However, the thought of sitting in a room interviewing with a potential employer and having to answer to some ignorant, uninformed status update from 2010 haunts me. Should I reasonably expect my words, photos, likes, dislikes, associations, etc. on social media to be protected? The entanglement of privacy expectations and the right of employers to consider worthy, reputable candidates is a delicate dance.

-Olivia Euler