Though Illinois passed ‘Facebook bill,’ experts say be wise online

By Donna Marbury/MEDILL

Brian Vaxter of West Town says he never worries about the content on his Facebook page affecting his career, but he has seen coworkers with questionable online behavior.

“I worry about coworkers saying bad things about our job or drinking in photos,” says Vaxter, a retail salesman, who adds he once witnessed a coworker lose a promotion due to Tweets about his new job. “Management caught wind of what he was saying about his job online and ended up blocking him from the promotion.”

Though it is illegal for employers to ask for someone’s social media password while vetting them for a job Illinois, often employers don’t need it to see your social media profile.

“As an individual in charge of hiring, I certainly check candidates’ social media presence and it can affect my hiring decisions,” says Divya Mohan Little, communications director of the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition. “If candidates are pictured in compromising positions or write blogs that demonstrate less than acceptable writing skills, I rule them out. But I don’t need their passwords to do a quick scan that may yield some pertinent information.”

On Aug. 1, Gov. Pat Quinn signed “The Right to Privacy in the Workplace” Act, dubbed the “Facebook bill,” which prevents employers from requiring current employees and jobseekers to supply social networking passwords. The law goes into effect Jan.1, 2013. Illinois joins Maryland and Delaware by enacting laws prohibiting social media password requests. In total, 14 other states have social networking password laws under consideration.

Studies vary stating that between45 – 90 percent of hiring managers investigate employee candidates by perusing social media sites. Changing privacy settings in one way to limit unwanted views, but some experts say that many employers want candidates with a healthy social media life.

Little is also the communications co-chair of The Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Chicago, an organization that includes 6,000 members, ranging in age from 20s to 40s, and offers events on social media and online networking. She says that because many organizations use Facebook for marketing purposes, employees with personal account often run company profiles.

“It is in the organization’s interest to pick trustworthy stewards of their mission who can represent the organization respectfully both personally and professionally. If they are diligent in the staff that they choose, having passwords should be unnecessary,” she says.

Janice Bond, president of SAVANT SAVANT, a business and social media strategy firm located in Chicago, says the new law addresses the tension presented by personal and private life when it comes to employment. “I understand the position of increased vulnerability many brands have been placed in due to the exposure of staff lives ‘off the clock’ through social media,” Bond says. “On the other hand, if social media is used wisely staff profiles can provide an extra layer of accessibility, in some cases humanism to business.”

Bond suggests that even if your Facebook profiles are private, it is always best to present yourself professionally online.

“People can utilize social media to position/reposition themselves as a valued source of data, referral source or even inspiration within their industry,” she says. “By using social media to distribute/redistribute information relevant to their industry, as well as simply continuing to build their social currency through maximizing online accounts and networks, they will build and maintain a strong, positive and authentic public image online.”

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