States take social media privacy into their own hands

Print More

In the U.S., 25 states have passed some sort of legislation aimed at protecting social media users from having to provide their online accounts to potential employers. Washington D.C. and Guam have also passed similar legislation.

Michigan was one of the first states to pass this type of privacy legislation in December, 2012. Maryland was the first state to pass their law in May of 2012. The bill was introduced by Senators Ken Horn, Aric Nesbitt and Paul Opsommer.

The law, dubbed the Internet Privacy Protection Act, prohibits employers and educational institutions from requiring individuals to grant access to their personal internet accounts. It also prohibits employers and educational institutions from enforcing actions for failure to allow access to those same personal accounts. The law also bans employers from asking to observe a potential employee while they navigate through their social media accounts.

According to Monster.com, a job recruiting website, 77 percent of applicants are Googled by employers or otherwise researched. A similar 70 percent of employers use social media to screen applicants, according to a CareerBuilder study, while 54 percent of employers have decided not to hire a candidate based on their social media profiles.

James Grimmelmann, a law professor and social media researcher at Cornell University, said the trend of states implementing social media privacy laws has been influenced by many factors, but is mainly an effort to keep possible employees safe from the preying eyes of recruiters.

“It’s just not fair to ask an employee for passwords to their social media accounts,” Grimmelmann said. “That’s what these laws are in place to stop from happening.”

And some students at MSU agree. Finance Senior Matt Luberto said he was always told to monitor his actions on social media for fear of being denied a job because of inappropriate content.

“It’s definitely stressful to think about an employer who you respect going through your social media accounts,” Luberto said. “You just have to be smart and careful.”

With Michigan’s current law, Luberto won’t have to worry about employers asking for usernames or passwords to his profiles, but they are still able to monitor his public profiles, just like anyone else on the internet can do.

“I’m definitely still weary of what I post on social media,” he said. “I know there’s definitely still potential employers looking at me online.”

As Michigan is one of the early adopters of such legislation, Luberto said he hopes the state continues to craft new legislation to protect internet users from surveillance.

The trend of protecting employees from the prying eyes of their employers through laws like Michigan’s is something that will most likely continue, said Grimmelmann.

Students like Luberto and Senior Margaret Abood, who recently accepted a job in New York for Deloitte, said she is excited about the law and hopes to see the rest of the country follow Michigan’s lead.

“I’m not worried about my online presence being an issue for any future job, but I’m glad employers can’t take advantage of other applicants,” Abood said. “I’m sure my employer at least googled me.”