Thursday, March 29, 2012

Appropriate behavior

I've been somewhat following the story of how some employers are now demanding Facebook passwords, or Facebook "friendship," of employees as well as applicants. This poses some obvious (the AHEM issue) and not-obvious problems, such as what if you aren't posting anything odd, but others are passing along stuff in your direction, imagining it's going to be kept private - as in, not a viewed-by-all wall post - and all of a sudden whichever random company now knows their business. Quite a few people I know, none of whom grew up with Facebook, now use it as an email account. Do they want their emails to me read if I decide I want to apply for a position at Intrusiveness Inc.?

There's also the question of what, precisely, constitutes inappropriate behavior documented on Facebook. Reasonable observers will suspect that this would extend beyond an album of photos of yourself, in blackface, shooting up heroin, interspersed with whiny wall posts about how much you hate your boss. But which non-abhorrent evidence might count? A young-looking 22-year-old photographed holding a glass of wine? A 50-year-old doing the same? Bathing-suit photos? Any evidence whatsoever that you exist, as a human being, during non-work hours? It hints at the school-age-kid phenomenon of OMG my teacher is a real person who has a life outside the classroom, in which "has a life" refers not to nights of club-hopping, but to things like being spotted at Starbucks.

One angle remarkably absent from the discussion, and that's the fact that many people, without an eye to any particular job opening, construct their entire online personas - including but not limited to Facebook - so as to impress potential employers. I don't mean removing or changing privacy settings on racier items, nor do I mean the really obvious self-promotional posts. I certainly don't mean postings that outright promote an organization. I mean having a completely different concept of what Facebook is for, such that there isn't any pretext of a 'real me' available only to (some) Facebook friends.

The 'real me,' for the set I'm thinking of, is available in abundance, and it does things like join a CSA or share an informative article about Sri Lanka. It's basically the same idea as when people list as "guilty pleasures" things like 'reading Kant' or 'being generally athletic and philanthropic' - where the 'confession,' such as it is, is that occasionally the individual participates in activities not connected with the day job, but let it be known, these things are wholesome, admirable, and if anything enhance the day-job performance. (If you're a man, evidence of having a family counts. If you're a woman, not so much.) Rather than hiding the shameful, it's about an inundation of the honorable.

Now, of course, it could be that the people I'm thinking of, none of whom are close friends, in fact have bong album after bong album, but their privacy settings hide those from distant acquaintances. I doubt it, but it's possible. Regardless, it's hard to say where cynical self-presentation manipulation ends and genuine 24/7 geekiness begins. People who claim to be interested in hiking and classical music... might be some kind of social-networking version of the proverbial online dater who likes long walks on the beach, but might also genuinely prefer hiking and classical music to Uniqlo and "The Millionaire Matchmaker." Is it that there's a certain kind of person who doesn't have an on/off switch for work vs. personal life, or are some just especially thorough when it comes to self-promotion?

The danger, I suppose, is a new norm, in which anyone who doesn't a) have a Facebook page, and b) use it to show how 24/7 flawless they are will be penalized. But given that thus far, it seems employers are interested in things like whether the people they're hiring are in a gang, I'm not sure we need to panic just yet.

4 comments:

Flavia said...

Is it that there's a certain kind of person who doesn't have an on/off switch for work vs. personal life, or are some just especially thorough when it comes to self-promotion?

I've always assumed that such people are constructing their Fb pages not with future (or current) employers in mind so much as with exes in mind.

Phoebe said...

Good point! But I think this is a different, if overlapping, set of people/status updates. The ex-impressing posts tend to emphasize current relationship status, current desirability, maybe also professional accomplishments. The ones I mean are more like, 'my hobby is translating from Urdu' or 'I'm so naughty, I drank a cup of caffeinated tea at 8pm!' Not things that would necessarily impress an ex, but ones that shout 'clean slate' or 'goody two-shoes' to potential employers.

Flavia said...

Perhaps it is just that I find the Facebook pages of my own exes so annoying (one of them used to have a whole series of subcategories for each of his favorite things--specifying, for example, which of his favorite movies are part of "THE CANON" [caps his] and which are merely "best of this year") that I am forced to conclude that they are written, specifically, to piss me off.

Seriously, though: in general, I think that most people are consciously, if not always consistently, working to project a desired self-image via Facebook. Even those "WHOO-HOO! PARTY TIME" photos in bikinis with a beer in each hand? Not undeliberate or unconsidered, though the intended audience surely isn't a future employer.

What I'm saying is that I think it's really part of a continuum. As people age and/or become more aware of their various and sometimes competing audiences, the stuff they show off or foreground may change. But at all times there seem to be people who are better than others (or maybe more obsessive than others) about projecting whichever consistent image they think will reflect "best" on them: maybe it's Party Girl, maybe it's Good Girl, maybe it's Girl Whose Life Is So Much Happier and More Glamorous Than Yours. But I'd say the impulse is the same.

mark jabbour said...

"certain kind of person?' - yes, but rare. My take: http://www.markjabbour.com/2012/03/17/facebook’s-timeline/