Employers Shouldn't Ask for Facebook Passwords

The ailing job market has given employers the distorted and alarming idea that they can have control over huge aspects of a worker's life.

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Note to potential employers, from all of us in the workforce:

We don't want to be your friends.

It's not personal. But there is work time, and there is play time, and there are colleagues and bosses and friends. And you know what friends are? They are the people to whom you complain about your bosses and annoying coworkers.

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But employers, according to some disturbing and important reporting by the Associated Press and other news outlets, have begun to demand that job interviewees give up their passwords to social networking sites so the employer can spy on them. In some cases, employers have asked job recruits to "friend" someone in human resources so the company can see what's on the applicant's site. In a recent case, a teacher's aide was suspended for refusing to give up her password.

There is legislation on Capitol Hill to allow the FCC to bar companies it licenses for demanding passwords. But in the meantime, job applicants can take matters into their own hands.

First, you can simply refuse to give up a password. Or, you could create a separate, shadow site for employers, who would have no way of knowing if this was your "real" page or a fake one. For good measure, you could post items with over-the-top praise for your potential employer. Or, you could post cryptic messages speculating about the personal lives or potential illegal activity at the company—without mentioning any names. The intrigue alone might get you the job. Or perhaps you could go on and on about your long, productive lunch the previous day with the CEO of the potential new employer's competitor.

[Read: Senators Rush To Stop Employers from Requiring Applicants to Turn Over Facebook Passwords]

There is certainly an argument to be made that people—young people, especially, who haven't lived long enough to know that some things need to be private—are posting inappropriate or offensive items and photos on their websites. And some of it is out of their hands, such as when a "friend" posts an embarrassing photo of you, then "tags" you so everyone can see it. This is one of the reasons you don't want to "friend" someone in human resources at a company where you may be working.

The ailing job market has given employers the distorted and alarming idea that they can have control over huge aspects of a worker's life. We got rid of the "company store" and (officially, anyway) "homework" for textile workers. The password demand is a move back in that direction. You have friends, and you have work colleagues. This is one area where "separate but equal" makes sense.

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