>Charlotte Barnes looks into how and why our relationship with Facebook may become complicated in the future

The use of social networking sites has sky-rocketed in recent years, to such an extent that for many people it has become the preferred method of communication. We absent-mindedly update our statuses and throw pictures online of our wild nights out, with very little thought as to who sees them. Now our Facebook wall is not just open for scrutiny from our nearest and dearest, but also from people such as teachers and even potential employers.
Therefore, this raises the question, should employers be able to check applicant’s Facebook pages? In the interest of maintaining personal privacy, the immediate answer to this question should perhaps be no. Upon reflection, it makes sense that an employer wants to gain a deeper insight into the life of someone they are potentially going to hire. There is only so much information that can be gained about a person from an interview and their CV; sometimes it requires going above and beyond the obvious methods to get what employers need to know. How you appear in an interview is not necessarily the ‘real you’; you’ll sit up a little straighter, talk a little nicer and (hopefully) won’t use the same language you would during a night at the pub with friends. From the perspective of an employer, the only way you can really develop a sense of someone outside the interview room is by looking at how they behave in reality – Facebook hands them this opportunity!

Photo by: Ian Chittick

However there is an obvious rebuttal to this: Are our Facebook pages representative of what we are like as employees? Facebook is a social networking site; it’s not there for niceties. It’s there for communication, funny status updates and pictures we all hoped people would never see. While an employer checking your Facebook might seem to them like a reasonable way to obtain information, it seems a little far-fetched to presume that our behaviour on a social networking site is indicative of our behaviour inside a working environment. Our Facebook profiles are meant to be for the viewing purposes of friends, who know our personality, our sense of humour, and also know when something is meant as a back-handed comment, rather than something that may be taken seriously by someone who doesn’t know you.
With the looming threat of being checked up on by employers, it raises a new collection of issues questioning whether we should be using these sites at all. If Facebook is becoming a way of monitoring people, should we now ourselves be monitoring what we put on our profiles? The idea of a Facebook profile is that you can upload what you want, when you want. If we have to start censoring information for fear of who might see it, surely we are negating the point of the website?
Unfortunately, there is no way to stop a potential employer from searching for you on Facebook. However, you can stop a potential employer from seeing things that may not be intended for their eyes. Facebook has an array of privacy settings which makes it extremely easy for you to dodge the threat of people finding things you don’t want them to see; a threat which is much more realistic given the new addition of the Facebook Timeline. Recent articles have revealed that not only will this new addition to Facebook soon become mandatory for all users, but the standard setting of the Timeline means that your once-secure profile will become completely open for anyone to see. There is a limited number of days in which you can review and edit the presentation of your profile, and, given that Timeline allows people to track your activity since the opening of your account, it might be a smart move to alter your security settings as soon as possible, before someone sees something that you don‘t even remember uploading!
A friend request from the boss is easily accepted when you know which buttons to press to censor your wall. If you don’t want to completely shut your Facebook off from the rest of the world, there is always the option of personalising certain things whilst leaving other information available for people to view. It might seem like a lot of effort to modify your profile for someone else; but when it’s the difference between getting a job and getting rejected, it seems like no effort at all.

Charlotte Barnes