Sitting in the Fish Bowl

According to the latest Career Builder survey, 43% of employers have not hired someone because of photos, comments, or outright lies listed on social media sites. About 50% of the respondents listed Inappropriate photos and information posted about drugs and drinking as the worst infractions. Only 28% of the respondents listed discriminatory comments about race, gender, etc as a reason to not hire someone.

Because, of course, getting liquored up on the weekend is far worse for business than posting racist or misogynist rants.

I will admit that as the father of two sons with facebook, twitter, instagram, and god knows what other outlets for free expression I have my concerns. According to a survey by Burlingame’s Jobvite, 42% of employers form positive or negative feelings based on social networks sites and 94% of recruiting and HR people are out there trolling the web looking for reasons to give candidates a thumbs up or thumbs down.

Essentially, social network sites have become part of an extended job application.

The good news is that soon enough I won’t have to monitor their social media. Geo Listening, a new startup that scans “posts across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other online services, searching for certain keywords and location information that would tie a person to the school community. Relevant data is then presented in a daily report to school officials.” For now, Geo Listening is confining their intrusion, er, monitoring, to schools that hire their services.

It’s not a violation of privacy, the company says, because they simply collect and process publicly available information.

Technically, of course, the company is correct. Mining available, publicly posted data is not a violation of privacy. As we see above, employers are already on that bandwagon.

However, I’m also, for lack of a better word, creeped out that a public school has decided that mining (trolling is more like it) social media sites is a valuable use of public dollars. Why, I must ask, is it okay for the principle to monitor my son’s facebook account when that same principle has absolutely no right to follow my son to McDonalds and spy on him?

Let me willingly admit that I find the cultural shift to posting private, personal information problematic. We have become a culture willing (and able) to trumpet our “self” as worth posting and publicizing. There is something incredibly egotistical about feeling compelled to share your intimate moments or your day to day moments with the world. Not only are you yelling “Look at Me,” you are also assuming you are worth looking at.

As with any other behavior, I’m more than willing to also admit that we must be held accountable for our behavior.

But, I’m also bothered that hiring managers and school districts have started using social media as hammer with which to punish posters. Yes–posting drunken photos of yourself kissing a cow on the backside says something about you but it doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t make a good bank teller.

Likewise, trolling student postings for key words that might indicate emotional issues seems like a good idea, unless, of course, you have teenagers. Then you realize emotional instability is teen age life.

What bothers me the most, though, is the slow erosion of civil liberties in the name of safety and security. I’ll be honest and admit that I’m not entirely sure I can articulate what bothers me the most. Like the argument supporting the NSA’s attack on our privacy in the name of fighting terror, supporters of companies like Geo Listening will tell us that we have nothing to fear if we are not guilty.

But we do have something to fear. When we recognize that unnamed authorities are monitoring our behavior, we both consciously and subconsciously change. When our public behavior becomes a matter of public record for which we are always held accountable, I can only imagine a growing trend to uniformity and safeness. Worse yet, it’s a short step from deciding that pictures of alcohol make a person not eligible for a job to deciding that one’s religion or politics cross some imaginary line.

In essence, this invasion threatens not just my civil liberties but my unique identity. More important, that public self I’m crafting via social media is part of my personal space independent of my office space. I fully understand losing a job or earning a reprimand if I’m on my work computer or representing the company. Doing teguila shots on the bosses desk is a bad idea even if I don’t post pictures to Instagram.

There’s a point, then, where companies like Geo Listening, and the schools that hire them, aren’t just tapping in and hearing my conversations. They are trying to shape my conversation.

And, that, at the end of the day, is a far bigger threat than me kissing my neighbor’s cat while smoking a joint.



About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

2 Responses to Sitting in the Fish Bowl

  1. Pingback: In This Week’s News… | only20something

  2. Nick says:

    Little by little we are being trained to accept these invasions, for “our own good”. It always brings to mind a scene from “1984” where Winston meets O’Brien in his apartment, and is utterly shocked that Inner Party members can turn off the omnipresent telescreen, even if only briefly. And then we have stories on the news about our TV’s and video consoles watching us as we watch them. Fiction is quickly losing it’s ability to be separated from fact!

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