Like Me? Follow Me.
I have been horrified, if not entirely surprised, to read that job seekers in the USA have been asked to provide access to their social media accounts at interview. In the article, job seeker Justin Barrett tells that he actively set his Facebook page's privacy settings to maximum, ensuring only he and select friends could access his data, mundane as it no doubt was.
Rather than respect his privacy, however, he was asked at interview for the logins to his account - presumably by an interviewer who had noticed his profile was private, and wanted to know what he had to hide. Other potential employers have demanded that applicants "friend" HR representatives for the company, who are then able to have a poke around their status updates, pictures and other activity - because, let's face it, if you're going to hire a statistician, you *need* to know his high score on Bejewelled, or how generous he is with his carrots on Farmville.
Aside from the depressing idea that potential employers would judge you based on the personal life you portray via social media ("A picture of the candidate enjoying an adult beverage? On a Saturday night?! NO THANKS!!"), it got me thinking...
*I* keep *my* Facebook profile private. Because that was the default setting from the start and, for me, it was part of the original appeal of Facebook over MySpace (I know, I know... MySpace?). The walled-garden, closed off nature of the original system made people feel much more confident to share private pictures, thoughts, feelings and conversations with friends on the assumption that no one else would see them.
Of course nowadays Facebook and various other influences, online and off, have managed to twist the idea of online privacy into something else entirely, so we're now encouraged to "share" anything and everything with the world. I'm not against this in principle - I'm active on Twitter, because I've understood from the start that anything posted there is public, and I moderate my tone as such. But Facebook is, to me, private, and it'll remain that way until the day they remove that option (which will be the day I "close" my account).
But until today, I'd never considered that my privacy settings could actually be saying something to the outside world (other than "this man is not an idiot, he respects his own right to privacy").
News of The World punching bag Paul McMullen famously said that "privacy is for paedos", regarding the recent furore over privacy and the press. While it was a typically incendiary comment for a red top journalist to make, it was understood to be with regards to celebrities (who, by definition, allow their privacy to be compromised to some degree) and stories that are "in the public interest". But have we come to expect this level of access to everyone?
A personal friend mentioned this weekend that he'd left Facebook a few weeks earlier to surprised gasps and questions - how could he live that way? Anybody who saw Charlie Brooker's recent episode of Black Mirror "The Entire History Of You" will remember the absolutely believable ostracising of the woman who refused to allow her memories to be accessible on demand.
Privacy has become optional. It seems like the incessant encouragement and ensuing desire to share the minutiae of our daily lives has made it so that those who decide to opt out can be viewed with suspicion. Let's hope it's just a fad, eh?
In the meantime, here's a handy infographic on the sad state of social media privacy. Read it, then go and check your Facebook settings.