No! You Don’t Get to See My Bathrobe

You think your private social media posts are relatively safe and private, right?

Wrong. Very wrong.

I’m not remarking on privacy policies on Facebook or Google. I’m also not remarking on the random hacking of your account. I’m not remarking on the blasted discussion of the privacy of your information (statistics) collected by various websites. Instead, I’m talking about the erosion of our own sense of privacy, the loss of the value of the privacy of your inner thoughts and conversations.

Let me set the stage for you:

You’ve been unemployed for several months and while applying to the local county position the application form requests your user name and password for your Facebook, MySpace, Google Plus or other social media account. Wanting to move forward in the interview process you dutifully complete the information.

While employers are forbidden from asking (and discriminating against you) for age, race, religion, sexual orientation, marriage status and kids access to these social network can provide them with all of those answers without ever uttering a word. Worse yet, they have access to every picture, every random thought and every inside joke posted behind the wall of your public persona. And now, now they get to make a hiring decision about you.

Here’s another picture for you:

You’re a student who’s just landed a full scholarship based on basketball. To remain on the basketball team you have to allow one of the coaches full access to your Facebook account so they can monitor your behavior. If you don’t comply, you don’t get to play. Not playing means you don’t get the scholarship and therefore, an education.

While discussing this troubling trend, I’ve seen many replies along these lines:

  • Tell them you don’t have a Facebook account
  • Make a second account for them
  • This is why we need to be able to have false names
  • Use Facebook Exfoliate
  • I deleted my Facebook account because I realized how unsafe it was becoming

This is my very contention.

We should not have to do any of these steps to protect communication done within an expectation of private conversation.

I have a public persona and I frequently make public posts. These are posts designed to be read by strangers and friends alike. To be honest, even in my more private posts I do not post content that would ever be embarrassing or a problem for me if seen by an employer, relative or child. As an individual I use different social networks for different purposes. On Facebook I share photos of my children and small daily moments I know matter to my closest friends and relatives. On Google Plus I tend to share more randomized fragments of information or whims based on the things I find on the internet. It could be recipe or simply a  clock I find intriguing. On both of these platforms I do not post about work other than in a very general sense (i.e. I was so busy today!). I don’t list my employer and even facts like my relationship status are hidden from general public view. LinkedIn is reserved for professional contacts and work related posts.

I’m not really a very private person; in fact I’ll answer almost any question you put to me when asked on a personal level. But among my trusted friends and family I might share more personal information than on a random public post. This information is shared with an expectation of privacy because it is not shared on a public level.

It frustrates and astonishes me that we are now in a place, here in the United States, where people are willingly giving up their privacy in order to secure a job or a scholarship or a place on a sports team. Let me make this clear: I do not fault the individuals acquiescing to the request; I fault the institutions pressuring this acquiescence. Even worse, I fear for the upcoming generation that hasn’t learned the value of their own private thoughts and conversations.

In the privacy of my own home I will walk from shower to laundry room stark naked as I go to retrieve a shirt or dress to wear for the day. This is perfectly acceptable behavior within in the walls of my own home and I certainly wouldn’t go check the mail lacking covering. I might check the mail in a bathrobe; attire again acceptable within the confines of my neighborhood but definitely not anything I’d don for a day at the office. We have these same expectations on our social media sites. I’d take deep, personal offense and complete outrage at a prospective employer expecting to see me in my bathrobe before deciding if they’d hire me. It doesn’t matter what I look like in the bathrobe, it’s private. Period. Better yet, having someone ask to go back and review my naked moment in the privacy of my own home?

We should all be outraged at these types of requests and unafraid to stand up for our inner monologues. They’re ours, they’re uttered within a trusted circle and they should remain there.

Here’s the article that sparked my outrage:

Here’s the conversation that ensued today:

    • Anonymous
    • March 6th, 2012

    Very impressive article Steph!

  1. Sooner or later, it’ll be like 1984.

  2. I definitely see what you’re saying. It is a nuisance for many to have to constantly remind themselves of privacy settings when they just want to speak their mind. Now, I’m not condoning saying whatever publicly, that’s just nonsense. More talking about things that are slightly edgy, not too bad, but can still make an employer think twice.

    This is one of those grey areas and will continue to be one for a long time.

    • It’s not just about reminding themselves of privacy, but in the keeping the expectation of the privacy they already enjoy.

  3. I totally agree. Facebook has replaced “Ma Bell” and everyone is in the phone book. Now, when you friend someone, you cannot even add a little note telling them about how you know him or her. Therefore, you must think of some other way of telling the person that you knew ten years ago that you still think is cool about yourself. Why bother friending them then? They probably don’t remember you. So it shuts off the magic that used to be the phone book when you looked up old friends and said “hi” on the phone. At least people were there to listen to your first sentence. “Hi, this is Greg. I went to prom with you twenty years ago. I just wanted to say hello and start reconnecting with old friends again.” Sure. How many people would hang up on that person? Now with Facebook you cannot even make that sentence in print for someone you once knew. That’s why I left Facebook.

  4. Very well written! It’s almost like we have created this monster (the internet) and are overcompensating control…

    • David P.
    • March 7th, 2012

    For the life of me I don’t understand why they would ask. Do they think I put *everything* onto the internet? To use your analogy, there is the “me” that the slices of the world sees (I rarely post anything as “public”), then there’s the “me” in the bathrobe with close friends, but there isn’t an online “me” that’s naked.

    Moreover, I think that a company that asked that of me would be one that I’d be uncomfortable working for.

  5. Very very well put. Its a very worrying thing thats starting.

    • It is, and it scares me that my kids won’t know the value of their privacy – it’s being eroded bit by bit.

  6. Hello, I read your blog regularly. Your story-telling style is witty, keep up
    the good work!

  7. Admiring the time and effort you put into your website and detailed information you present. It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same unwanted rehashed material. Fantastic read! I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  8. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post

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