Despite what you may have heard in the past couple of weeks, most employers aren't asking job candidates to hand off their Facebook passwords.
This is not a trend. In fact, it's extremely rare. The article that started the near-pandemonium about this so-called trend cited a single case at an unnamed company, with the rest of its evidence coming from hiring practices at law enforcement and government agencies, which have always conducted thorough background checks. And those examples weren't even recent; one of the two agencies cited had already changed its policy last year after people complained.
Yet the news has been full of frenzied reports of this "growing trend" and "widespread practice"—when in reality, it's anything but.
You're highly unlikely to ever have an employer ask you for your Facebook password. It's about as likely as an interviewer asking to look in your purse—some oddball interviewer might request it, but it's hardly a common question or a growing trend. If it does happen, you can simply say, "I don't give out my password because it violates the site's terms of service, although I'd be happy to send you the link to view my profile."
That said, there are plenty of invasions of privacy in hiring, and it would make far more sense for the outrage to be focused there instead:
The credit check problem, at least, is beginning to get a bit of attention. Seven states have now restricted the use of credit checks in hiring, and there are pending bills that would do the same in several more states. There's also a bill in Congress—the Equal Employment for All Act—that would restrict the use of credit checks in hiring. And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently filed a class-action discrimination lawsuit against a large company, alleging that its use of credit reports in hiring decisions disproportionately excludes male, African-American, and Latino candidates.
But employers continue to run amok over job candidates' privacy, regularly insisting on information that they have no business asking about. And they'll continue to do so—even ramping up these privacy violations—until people stand up and say that it's wrong and should stop.
The outrage that's been directed toward the Facebook passwords story should be directed toward the very real privacy invasions happening in interviewers' offices and online application systems every day. That's the real scandal, not a made-up trend that most people will never encounter.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.