Monday, October 27, 2014

Cybervetting: Why I delete people on Facebook

    Right before my high school graduation an instructor commented on the promises made by senior students to stay in touch with one another. He based his argument on his own experiences, telling us that no matter how committed we feel to each other, we would eventually lose touch with a majority of the people we were close to in high school. I heard him out and then calmly informed him about how wrong he was. My argument was based around the fact that when he graduated high school, online social media was not in existence making it harder for people to stay in touch.

    A couple of years later I became interested in exploring what others could know about me just by clicking on my profile. Facebook allows you to view your profile as another person, when I did so, I was pleased to find that a lot of my recent content was blocked from public view. When Facebook introduced their new timeline feature I noticed how easy it was for anyone to scroll through my earliest posts, which were not as well protected from public views. This presented a new threat: people viewing my profile could now access a portrayal of me as a high school student.

    My concerns were justified earlier this semester when I read a piece by Berkelaar and Buzzanell (forthcoming) on the topic of cybervetting, which they define as “the process whereby employers seek information about job candidates online” (p. 6). Their paper describes a study with 45 employers who discuss their practices in hiring new employees. Online media (especially social media) affords them the ability to find more information about potential applicants. Reading through the article, you quickly realize the ethical implications involved in this practice. Berkelaar and Buzzanell point out that often, the employees stop at the first ‘red flag’, short of confirming the validity or examining the context of the find. Such information includes visual and relational information.

    Visual information can be especially detrimental because it gives the employer insight into aspects of a person’s life that are illegal to seek during an interview. For example, photo’s can reveal a person’s sexuality, their family plans, even drinking habits. Relational information is based on the judgement of a person’s network, or who someone has on a friends list. My biggest concern was to be found guilty by association. To me that came in the form of being tagged (relational information) in photos (visual information) with comments that went against my beliefs and values.

    Within my own profile I often filter, block, and change the viewing settings of a lot of the content posted on my page. It is a bit more trouble, but I found it to be worth so that I am not associated with someone who makes unsolicited derogatory comments on content I post or am linked to. To relate this back to my high-school friends, I found myself deleting many of them. Not because I had a personal vendetta against the person, but because I realized how little personal value having a person listed on an online website actually has especially when this is a person is someone with whom I haven’t spoken in years. In the end I would rather be associated with the persona of “MA student, family-oriented” rather than be written off as “high school yearbook editor, has a lot of friends.”

Berkelaar, B., & Buzzanell, P. M. (forthcoming). Online employment screening and digital career capital: Exploring employers’ use of online information for personnel selection. Management Communication Quarterly.

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