Trend of employers asking for Facebook passwords questioned

The practice isn’t widespread, according to the reporter who wrote the story identifying it.

An Associated Press story last week sparked pandemonium on the Web.

The piece identified a disturbing new trend in the workplace: Employers asking for job candidates’ Facebook passwords. Commenters decried the practice. Facebook urged employers against it, and federal lawmakers asked the Justice Department to step in.

But there’s little evidence to suggest the practice is widespread, according to the lead writer of the AP story, Manuel Valdes.

The piece begins with an anecdotal lead about a statistician who withdrew his application for a job after the employer requested his passwords. The story also cites a handful of incidents in which government agencies—primarily in law enforcement and corrections—asked for job applicants’ passwords.

Media outlets rushed to publish follow-up stories, each headline more breathless than the next until they started declaring: “Employers want your Facebook password.” (PR Daily was guilty of this breathless reporting.)

At the Hartford Courant, reporter Matthew Kauffman questioned the reaction to the story. According to Kauffman, who interviewed Valdes, the reporters never indicated the practice was pandemic.

Valdes told Kauffman that he had noticed several people on the social media site Reddit posting pictures of job applications that ask for login information. So, Valdes asked Reddit users about the practice.

From Kauffman:

The request generated more than 1,700 comments, although the vast majority was merely commenting on the practice. Among the few directly on point, about 10 posters said they had been asked to provide access to their Facebook accounts when applying for jobs as police officers or correction officers. Fewer still said private companies had made similar requests, and Valdes typically asked them to email him. But it appears that few if any of those claims ultimately made it into the AP’s report.

Valdes said he gets the feeling that more private employers are doing it, “but it doesn’t seem to be widespread.”

Beyond the examples of government agencies—particularly law enforcement officers and 9/11 dispatchers—”there is little to suggest that typical employers are bearing down on applicants to open up their Facebook pages,” Kauffman wrote.

He continued: “But as Valdes’ report ricocheted around the Web, his anecdote morphed into a trend, and the trend became a growing trend, and overnight, an Internet/media monster was born.”

Shel Israel noticed the monster. In a blog post on Forbes, he called it the great non-issue, pointing out that all of the incidents cited by the AP and others are more than a year old and, as Kauffman noted, mostly involve government jobs.

“These incidents should never have happened, but there is just no evidence that the practice is spreading,” Israel said.

The bottom line: Don’t worry about it.

“Of all the online issues I think you should worry about, my advice is to lose no sleep on this one,” he added. “If such a practice is being tried, it is not widespread and it is unlikely that it will become widespread based on available information.”

However, the AP story also noted other tactics employers are using, such as asking applicants to friend HR people or log on to their Facebook page on a company computer. These practices appear to be more widespread and, if they’re illegal, should have the attention of lawmakers.

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