Tweets, statuses and likes – these commonly used words allude to the culture of social media. However, these often-inane actions can sometimes have hefty consequences if not carefully monitored. In response, state legislators are pursuing reform that would ban landlords, universities and employers from forcing prospective tenants, students and employees to show their personal information they have on social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.
The legislation would specifically ban landlords, universities and employers from forcing or asking applicants to reveal their profiles on social media websites. However, because the legislation includes several exceptions to this ban, social media users are still required to be both vigilant and responsible in their online activities. This legislation is a necessary step in protecting peoples’ right to privacy and ability to regulate their own social media activity.
The legislation still allows employers to compel employees to show information if it would help in a police investigation and to monitor any information exchanges that may take place on electronic device the company purchased. It also still permits landlords, tenants and admission officials to look at publicly available personal information.
In other words, social media users cannot be completely carefree in their social media habits. The legislation merely levels the playing field by taking away some of the information gathering power that certain parties have gained since the advent of social media. The bill would provide some privacy and security for anyone who uses social media.
When it comes right down to it, even the most selective social media user is not perfect, and to force them to give over their account name and password is an overreach. There is little chance that, if you were to pick two random people off the street and ask them to view each other’s Facebook profiles, they would not be able to find something that they didn’t like about the other person.
Now, in no way am I defending some idiots who have profile pictures of them smoking a joint. I aim only to point out that it is not acceptable for employers to deny a prospective employee a job based on their assumptions about the employee’s Facebook page. The legislation is created to protect people from losing out opportunities due to minor online mishaps and petty social differences.
Prospective tenants, students and employees should be judged on their credit history, academic accomplishments and prior experiences. They should not be disqualified from houses, schools and jobs due to information about their personal lives they are forced to give to employers.
Social media has provided our society with many benefits in communication. However, with its immense popularity, it has been operating with few legal restrictions at the individual level. With all new inventions that become an integral part of daily life, regulations must be passed in order to protect society. For example, it is unlikely the first drivers of the automobile believed its creation would result in national speed limits, state-issued license plates or state-issued driver’s licenses – all of which have been essential to a functional society reliant on automobiles.
The same process of regulation is beginning to happen with social media, and this piece of legislation is one of the first of its kind in Wisconsin. Already nine states have passed similar legislation, and 35 are currently considering passing similar legislation. The proposed legislation would regulate social media and is meant to protect the personal information and privacy of applicants for housing, colleges and jobs. It is essential that we begin to discover the legal and moral boundaries in which social media should be allowed to operate.
Jared Mehre ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science, sociology and legal studies.