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The GEM Debate: Should Potential Employers Be Allowed To Check Your Online History?

employee history

Tooling around on Facebook the other day I came across a posting by a friend and former co-worker who was hot with a capital “H” over this story.

The article’s about a company that’s being hired by employers to conduct background checks on potential employees. But these aren’t your run of the mill checks. No, this company, called Social Intelligence, combs the Internet, checking an applicant’s online behavior for the past seven years. Right-to-privacy proponents (and my friend as well) worry this is an egregious overreach and will give employers an opportunity to discriminate based on things like sexual orientation.

Okay, here’s my take and it might not be the most popular one but pay attention, all my little friends on Facebook and Twitter.

What you put online, in social media forums, IS NOT PRIVATE! You put it out there to be shared, to be laughed at and passed along. You don’t get to be righteously indignant when the photo of you getting trashed with a lampshade around your nether regions keeps you from getting a job on Wall Street.

My incensed friend contends that if someone does their job well Monday through Friday, it shouldn’t matter what he or she does in his or her private life, off the clock. But doesn’t what we post online lend an insight into who we are as people and what we believe? What if someone in line to teach my little brown babies had posted a bunch of photos of themselves in Klan get up at hate rallies? Should I be concerned about that? You’re damn right I would!

As I’ve said before and will reiterate, the danger becomes when an employer uses information culled from online sources to discriminate, a very real concern. But where does right to privacy butt up against my right to know? For that, I fear, there is no easy answer.

But what about you, do you think companies like Social Intelligence are overstepping the bounds of privacy? Should they be shut down or do we just need to be more careful about what we do in our online lives?

Let’s debate!


  1. m.e. johnson

    July 22, 2011 at 11:55 am

    There’s that ‘should’ again. I certainly agree that everyone SHOULD know by now that anything on the net is not private.
    Through the ages people have used what was available to find needed/wanted information about what/whoever.

    Clarence Darrow, the great lawyer, would dress down, walk for blocks, start innocuous conversations with neighbors of his opponents. The FBI still goes thru trash to glean info. There have always been private detectives. Ins. companies film their ‘cripple’ clients jogging. I myself have researched prospective employers and their companies. Found that one had faced several lawsuits for mal-treatment of employees. I wouldn’t have known that otherwise. Do you think I wanted to work there?

    If you are a dirty rat evenings and weekends, you are pretty sure to be a dirty rat M-F, 9-5.

  2. Irene

    July 22, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    Damn straight Gem!!! If you put yourself out there online you better hope a prospective employer doesn’t see it….

  3. Kendall

    July 22, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    This is why it’s a good idea to have your mother, pastor, preacher, teenage child or other such persons as Facebook friends. If you don’t want them all to know about something in particular you probably shouldn’t be posting it online. It will make you think twice. Of course Facebook isn’t the only online venue, but this rule of thumb is a good litmus test. And remember, there’s no “undo” feature on the internet. Once it’s there it’s crawled, discovered and indexed by search engines, and it’s there for good.

  4. Mike McGinley

    July 22, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    I think we all need to think about our circumstances before posting online. For instance, if you’re a college student or maybe looking for a job, watch every single word you type. On the converse, if you’re self-employed or independently wealthy, you have the freedom to share your thoughts very openly. For me, as a professional employee for a publicly traded company, I am careful of my online activity. That means, I won’t post a ton of negativity, wouldn’t talk about major health issues, and wouldn’t share crazy partying pictures (especially since I don’t even have such photos as I get older). Basically, people need to think about their life, where they’re going, who they’ll have to answer to down the road. The online world is phenomenal, if used appropriately. You can be open and fun, without disgracing yourself and your company or potential companies for which you may work.

  5. m.e. johnson

    July 23, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    In an article I just read, Social Intelligence says in their reports they make sure not to comment on anything that’s illegal to ask: religion, sexual orientaton, marital status, etc. True or not? Who knows.

  6. Tiffany

    July 27, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    I’m with you, Rene. If you don’t want people to hear you say something, you keep your mouth closed. In this day and age, you need to keep your mouth closed AND refrain from posting it online.

    If you are concerned about people infringing on your privacy, perhaps you should learn to be a little more private.

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Combing the aisles at Target in search of the best deal on Cheerios, it hit Rene Syler like the stench of a dirty diaper on a hot summer’s day. Not only is perfection overrated its utterly impossible! Suddenly empowered, she figuratively donned her cape, scooped up another taco kit for dinner and Good Enough Mother was born.

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