Germany is taking steps to prevent employers from making hiring and firing decisions based on social networking sites like Facebook.
The German parliament is set to consider a new bill that would require employers to distinguish between information that is publicly available on social networks and information that is available on the rest of the Internet when making hiring decisions.
“According to a draft of the bill, employers would be able to use publicly accessible information about applicants drawn from the Internet but not from social networking sites that serve ‘communication purposes,’” Reuters reports. On the other hand, information found on social networking sites like LinkedIn, which are used explicitly for professional purposes, would be allowed.
The goal is essentially to protect employees’ privacy and prevent workers from being penalized for information that is shared as part of their online social life. If passed, employers who violate this new law would be fined as much as $379,000, though as Reuters points out, it’s unclear how exactly German officials would be able to enforce this policy, unless the employee specifically marks down information that they’ve gathered from Facebook in the employee’s file.
Now that Germany is considering this law, it raises the question of whether legislators in the U.S. should follow suit and take up the debate as well.
As we’ve reported before, too many Americans have been fired from their jobs because of an embarrassing picture or poorly worded status update on Facebook. And while there’s no way to know how many people have been turned down from jobs because of Facebook, it seems likely that this has happened many times as well, especially considering studies that show three quarters of human resources professionals research applicants’ background information online, including on social networking sites.
While more Americans are aware now that what we say online can come back to hurt us, the truth is these days, it only takes one questionable photo or piece of information posted on Facebook or any other social networking site to doom your career prospects.
This point was emphasized last month in a New York Times feature by Jeffrey Rosen about privacy and reputation in the age of social media. Rosen pointed out that workers are now faced with a situation where anything they say online is forever immortalized, and then offered a possible solution.
“Anticipating these challenges, some legal scholars have begun imagining new laws that could allow people to correct, or escape from, the reputation scores that may govern our personal and professional interactions in the future,” Rosen writes. “Jonathan Zittrain, who teaches cyberlaw at Harvard Law School, supports an idea he calls ‘reputation bankruptcy,’ which would give people a chance to wipe their reputation slates clean and start over.”
Of course, this idea is purely theoretical and it’s unclear how the government, or any private company, could ensure that every bit of questionable information about you online is wiped away.
However, it’s important to note that policies like this are to some extent just intended to protect us from ourselves. If you are careful about what you type and post online, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter may actually help you find a job, rather than bar you from obtaining one.
On Facebook, job seekers have found luck joining one of the thousands of groups on the site and reaching out to potential contacts that way, or even just posting status updates about your search in the hopes of getting the right contacts to notice. Similarly, one man actually landed a job with a single post to Twitter that a prospective employer found very impressive.
So what do you think? Should the government step in to stop employers from making hiring decisions based on social networks, or is this just a fact of life that Internet users should accept when applying for jobs today?
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