The great privacy debate comes home to roost

I recently came face-to-face with the murky issues of social media and hiring in the workplace.

Days before the person’s interview, a candidate to join my organization started sending Twitter messages addressed to my username.  So I got a notification from Twitter that I was “mentioned” in someone else’s Tweet (Twitter is designed in such a way that another user cannot contact me privately unless I choose to “follow” that user explicitly.  Which I wasn’t).

What was strange was that the person was addressing questions to me about the upcoming job interviews.  Asking something about my company’s job benefit package if I recall.  In other words, questions that could, and should, have been addressed in the setting of an interview.  Even more curious is that the person sent those same Tweets to another employee with the same questions.  And that other employee didn’t even work in my department.

A flood of questions came into my mind…..

  • Could I read this person’s Tweets?
  • Should I read them?
  • Are somebody’s Tweets in the public domain?  With over 100 million users, and the ability of any user to see the Tweets of any other, one could argue yes
  • Are things in the public domain fair game for evaluation in a hiring process?  Beyond the obvious off-limits discriminators such as age, gender, sexual preference, etc.
  • Even if such information wasn’t in the public domain, was it still something I could, or should, use in my evaluation?  In many parts of the world, employers are entitled to collect information about an employee beyond what is offered by the employee him/herself

I found that the answers to these questions were far from obvious.  I suspect it will be years before the law and business behavioral norms will catch up with these issues.

I won’t tell you what I did in answer to these questions, out of respect for the privacy of the individual and the fear of opening up a legal can of worms.

What I will say is that I approach online life as if everything I say can be read by others, and thus used by them to form some judgment of me: my blog, Facebook account, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.  Is this a form of self-censorship?  Yes, to a degree.  I guess there’s still a role for offline communications and “antique” forms of online communication like email or SMS.

3 thoughts on “The great privacy debate comes home to roost

  1. As far as I can tell, tweets are public, and then I would consider them accessible by everyone, with its benefits and drawbacks. DEFINITELY not the place for asking about these things.

    Facebook? I trust them so far to keep things as I set them, although at most if someone sees what they shouldnt, I will be embarassed I guess. Nothing major going through Facebook. As far as level of required privacy would go, I would rate communication forms this way – personal talk > talk over phone > SMS > email > regular mail > facebook messaging >> facebook wall-to-wall > twitter, with the last two essentially public.

  2. Everyone’s tweets are in the public domain. There are numerous ways to analyze this and other social media. Twitter itself publishes an API. There are companies like InfoChimps that have created a business model around analysis of social media – a lot is happening in the “big data” space !

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