When social media became the hottest trend about ten years ago, it opened up a proverbial can of worms that many people are still trying to get a grasp on. One of the issues that has come up is how employers use social media to make decisions in a company, such as hiring and promotion.  Since this practice began, almost 70% of employers have admitted to snooping on a prospective hire’s social media. What’s more, almost half (43%) of those have found questionable material that has made them not choose a candidate. Of course, there is also the 19% who have found positive social media presence that has led them to hire the person in question. But all of that may be changing soon, at least in Massachusetts, as a new bill is making its way through the legislature.

A new privacy law in Massachusetts

This privacy law would make it illegal for an employer to request that they be given access to an applicant’s social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat accounts. As it stands, if a person posts things to their social media accounts without making them “private,” then those posts are still fair game for employers to use since they are considered public information. However, some employers have been requiring that they be given access to private accounts so they can more thoroughly investigate the backgrounds on their employees. Under this new law, they would not be able to do this. In addition, public and private schools and colleges could also not access the private social media posts of their students for investigative purposes. Civil liberties organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have been promoting this and similar legislation as they see such monitoring as an invasion of an individual’s privacy.

More states are adding social media privacy laws

The Massachusetts legislation would not be the first of its kind in the US. There are currently twelve other states that have already passed similar laws and another 28 states have considered such measures. However, the law also has to walk a fine line between preventing an invasion of privacy and monitoring behavior that could pose a threat. In the wake of recent school shootings, schools are looking more closely at social media posts that may be an early warning sign of violent behavior.

A recent CareerBuilder survey listed what caused employers to pass on a candidate. These employers did not hire people for the following reasons:

  • Posting inappropriate pictures (46%)
  • Posting information about drug or alcohol use (41%)
  • Posting negative comments about former employers (36%)
  • Posting discriminatory comments, including racist and sexist statements (28%)

Employers hold that this information is important to help weed out potentially problematic hires before they can hurt a company’s reputation online.