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Facebook Creeping!

The Ethics Involved With Employers Usage of Facebook

Jay Schultz CSC 300 Professor Clark Turner 11/25/2008

Abstract
In the recent years, internet usage has been on the rise with more and more users actively visiting their favorite websites for the purposes of keeping up-to-date with news, entertainment, and their individual social life. The social networking companies like Facebook have lately been producing the top emerging websites. These public service websites offer the ability for friends and family to share personal information back and forth with ease. However with the increasing growth and popularity of these public social communities, there have been some questionable unintended uses of the service. Specifically, some employers have started to use the Facebook website in order to prescreen hopeful applicants. This paper discusses the ethical concerns regarding these actions. Particularly, the paper addresses multiple arguments from both parties; employers and applicants. Using ethical analysis, a conclusion is drawn that it is unethical for employers to use Facebook to prescreen applicants without prior permission. Employers should solely rely on information that is relevant, fully disclosed prior to any research, and received from a reliable source in order to correctly make a professional decision.

Contents 1. Introduction 2. Facts
2.1 Background 2.1.1 Online Social Networks 2.1.2 Privacy Settings 2.1.3 Online Human Resource Research 2.2 Case Studies 2.2.1 Northwestern Student 2.2.2 Dartmouth Student

1 2
2 2 4 5 6 6 6

3. Ethical Issue
3.1 Ethical Question 3.2 Ethical Focus

7
7 7

4. Ethical Arguments
4.1 Employer Arguments 4.1.1 Public Information 4.1.2 Cross-reference Accuracy 4.1.3 Company Representation 4.2 Applicant Arguments 4.2.1 Separation of Professional and Personal Life 4.2.2 Objective Screening 4.2.3 Personal Views

8
8 8 8 9 10 11 11 12

1 Privacy 5.1. Ethical Analysis 5. Glossary .1 Main Issues 5. Conclusion 7.4.2.2 Summary 14 14 14 16 18 6. Privacy Tips B.1.2.3 Accuracy 5.4 Inaccurate Information 4.2 Discrimination 5.5 Privacy Infringement 12 13 5. Bibliography A.1.

and just about everyone else has joined or at least has heard of the online social networks. is the number one social media networking website in the world. University administrators have begun to use such networks to track their students. www.1. employers have started to use the social networking websites to research and prescreen their applicants. have also been used to show the recent increase of employers using online services to run background checks. regional citizens. Facebook. [comScore] The social networking websites started their development in 1997 and have been increasingly growing ever since. Law enforcements have also jumped onboard to monitor community citizens and their activities. along with many others. What is considered private information? What is considered public? Is it lawful for employers to use Facebook with intent to research applicants? Is it fair? This paper has addressed these questions and more in the analysis of the ethics behind employers using Facebook. a website intended to help interaction between employers and applicants. A specific ethical question is asked and the . [JCMC] Now high school students. [The Argonaut] Furthermore. privacy issues are bound to occur. Introduction The Facebook website.facebook. The facts and details about the subject are given with the help of official sources that include Facebook itself as well as comScore. collegiate students. [Careerbuilder. an internet marketing research company.com. Surveys taken by CareerBuilder. [Facebook] However with this many users gathering in one public domain.com. professionals.com] Ethical questions have been asked with the new involvement of employers seeking out applicant’s information by use of one specific social network.

Currently the two biggest online networks are MySpace.1 Online Social Networks Social networking websites are defined as “web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public profile…. was created by Mark Zuckerburg in his Harvard dorm room. 2. Each user can become a friend with another user if each user agrees. and a messaging system. founded in 2003. Facebook began allowing user . they have a messaging system that allows users to communicate with one another. appeared online in 1997. and (3) view and traverse their list of connections. Facts 2. However.com. Since the first creation of a social networking website.1 Background 2. each offering their own set of unique features.Schultz 1 arguments from both sides are provided. By the end of the paper.1. currently the top online social networking website. And each user is given a profile to display desired personal information like contact and educational specifics. founded in 2004. Facebook. profiles. SixDegrees. Its original intent was to connect the Harvard students amongst one another. numerous competitors have begun to battle for the number one spot. [comScore] They both consist of the fundamental features of any social networking website such as: friends. (2) articulate a list of other users…. Lastly.” [JCMC] The first social networking website. Users can also be a part of any particular group with the purpose of finding other users with the same interests. groups. and Facebook. different ethical analysis is applied to examine the question and presents a precise conclusion using all of the available resources including the Software Engineering Code of Ethics.

Shortly after. The online social network websites alone accounted for 239 million unique visitors just for . Now every user is associated with at least one of the 55. its wall. Still in its year years. Columbia. Facebook in particular. [Facebook] With the recent development of online heavy-weights. and Yale. social network websites have been among the top sources of unique internet visitors.Schultz 2 registration from 4 select universities: Harvard. Facebook also offers a variety of editable text regions on its profiles ranging from personal interest to work related history. The organizational style Facebook applies to its profiles offer a clean and fashionable look-and-feel. social. and its application based on an open source platform.edu” email account. or geographic region. All of these specific components are apart of the Facebook community and make it stand out amongst its competitors. The unique features include its photo sharing capabilities. each user is given a wall. a public space to display user to user conversations and other interactions. as well as a feed to notify friends of the recent interactions. It then quickly expanded to 800 different college networks which all required a “@college. its profile information. In addition.000 different networks based on their college. The photo sharing capabilities enable users to upload and post photos to the website and then associate other users with the photograph by tagging each user in the individual photo.000 different applications available to its users. Facebook added professional networks and then finally extended its service to anyone. high school. Stanford. Facebook currently has over 52. [Facebook] Facebook has its own set of distinct characteristics that set it apart from the other online networks. Facebook expanded further accepting high school student associated within their respective networks. profession.

com) .Schultz 3 the month of May in 2008. Facebook generally assigns the most lenient and lax privacy settings when a user creates a new account. And each application is required to have its own set of privacy settings. and the applications as a whole. Each component’s visibility can be set to either: “My Networks and Friends. However. Another privacy option is to completely block an individual user. However by default. It is also the number one photo sharing application on the Web with more than 30 million photos uploaded daily.1. Facebook currently has more than 120 million active 1 users within its 55 thousand different networks. The growths of these social networking websites have just been fueling the recent increase of everyday internet usage.” or “Only Friends. For instance. components of the wall. Most of the settings default to the “My Networks and Friends” visibility setting unless explicitly changed by the user after setting up the new account. Additionally. an article in The Daily Pennsylvanian stated that “four 1 An active user is defined as a user who has returned to the site in the last 30 days. there are individual settings for search visibility.” [Facebook] The applications are the only component where you cannot explicitly set the visibility settings. profile visibility. but the user must know the name of the person in order to fully block any activity between each other.” “People in My Network. [comScore] 2.” “Friends of friends.2 Privacy Settings Facebook offers many solutions to the privacy concerns of its community users. users can choose to share or not share specific privacy settings with the application’s platform. Alone. [Facebook] Facebook just reported to be the number one most-trafficked social media website in the world in addition to being the 4th most-trafficked website overall. (Facebook.

And 12% of employers said they have used a social networking website such as Facebook. by default select information including a user’s name. contact information. The uses of these social network websites are giving employers a much more detailed view of applicants in a nonprofessional setting and the realization is that “everyone is doing it. personal information.Schultz 4 out of five members are using the site with the default privacy setting. videos. [Money Management] Just recently have company human resource departments been using the internet to perform more extensive informal background checks. recruiters have accounts themselves allowing them to check the profiles of job applicants. Furthermore. any single user in the same network is granted access to another user’s wall. and fiends list. [Jones] Other employers will fully subscribe to online social networks like MySpace and Facebook in order to get their research.” [NY Times] In fact 22% of employers have said that they have used some kind of online resource in order to look up and research applicants. [CareerBuilder.” [The Daily Pennsylvanian] That translates into. Some just simply using Google by typing an applicant’s name into their search engine and examine the search results that get returned.3 Online Human Resource Research Corporate companies have been doing background checks since 1970 in order to screen possible applicants. Employer’s online research methods range from company to company. online presence. [The Crimson] Out of the employers that actually use the . and a list of friend will be visible in the results of any Facebook user search.1. groups. 2. photos. networks.com] Even if it is not a company policy.

Schultz 5 online social network resources.2.com.” [North by Northwestern] 2. Hughes.com] The online social networks are having increasing impact on applicant prescreening.2 Case Studies 2. The student applied through the University Career Services and submitted a strong résumé. spokesman for Facebook. says that “It’s not how we originally intended the site to be used.2. She had a GPA above 3.” [The Crimson] 2. it is within these people’s legal rights to go in and get a better sense of what people are like.2 Dartmouth Student A Dartmouth University newspaper interviewed one employer who admitted to using Facebook in order to research and screen his applicants. they were able to come to the conclusion that her Facebook profile was hurting her. The staff member openly asked an employer regarding the student and why she was not getting positive feedback from the company. but still was having a difficult time getting an internship interview. [CareerBuilder. released an article about one of their students experience with employers usage of Facebook. The employer gave the simplistic response of “look at your Facebook. That said. Chris R. 63% percent of them said that they found information on the sites that made them not want to hire the applicants.7.1 Northwestern Student The Northwestern University newspaper. With the help of a Career Services staff member. North by Northwestern. He declared that he knew how .

However.” His Facebook profile had his number one interest as “smoking blunts with the homies. Ethical Issue 3. the employer still asked himself the question “what did his interest say about his maturity and his professionalism?” [The Dartmouth] 3.1 Ethical Question Is it ethical for employers to use Facebook in order to prescreen applicants without prior permission? 3.1 Employer Arguments .” And his third interest included “sexually assaulting someone. 4. He described one instance when a candidate “perished at the hands of Facebook. Arguments 4.Schultz 6 to search the Dartmouth network specifically and then search throughout the network’s users looking for specific phrases under their posted interests.2 Ethical Focus The ethical focus is on the specific case that an applicant has created a new Facebook account under a given network with the default privacy settings and an employer uses an existing employee in a corresponding network to view the applicant’s profile.” The employer went on to state that he thought the student as probably just kidding.” His number two interest was “busting caps in the whities.

it's not like (we are) hacking” the website. publicly display…User Content for any purpose.Schultz 7 4. copy. [Connell] The employers also explain that the applicants are the ones posting “stuff on the internet voluntarily.1. [Pell] However with a recent survey reporting that “nearly 50% of résumés (contain) factual errors.1. publicly perform.1 Public Information The first argument in favor of using Facebook to prescreen applicants is that the user content posted on website is public information. They believe they have the same right to access this information as any other user on the social network website. [Money Management] Using online social networks like Facebook offer companies a fast free . However. When the applicants register to use the Facebook website.2 Cross-reference Accuracy The traditional collection of résumés is the “tactic most often used” for employers to prescreen applicants. you automatically grant…the Company an irrevocable…worldwide license to use. employers claim they are not doing anything unlawful to get their candidate’s information.” [Facebook Terms of Use] Given such public “User Content” is widely available on their applicants. they agree to the Terms of Use document that states “By posting User Content to any part of the Site. 4. credit reports. [Yahoo] Additionally. “employers feel that they should be able to take advantage of the ‘free’ information” within Facebook. and criminal activity. they require time and money to perform on every applicant.” employers reason the need alternative ways of prescreening applicants. [Jones] Formal background checks allow employers to crossreference such things as employment history. but only using the public service that has been provided.

the information needed to efficiently and accurately prescreen any applicant. The employers like the ability to research candidates so they can answer the question. and obsessive sex” for his interests. employers argue that the Facebook public service gives them fast accessibility of most.1. an applicant’s Facebook profile listed “smoking blunts. email address. employment history. One employer told an executive director of a university career center that they look for “red flags. [NY Times] 4.3 Company Representation Employers also argue that using Facebook to research applicants allows them to get a better look at the individual in a non formal setting. shooting people.Schultz 8 service to perform background checks and specifically cross-reference the accuracy of their vast amount of applicant information. if not all. They can double-check an applicant’s age.” [Snell] Some “red flags” employers have found while researching applicants with Facebook are explicit user content.” Facebook allows employers to specifically ask “is there something about their lifestyle that we might find questionable or that we might find goes against the core values of our corporation?” [NY Times] Employers explain that they are making a huge investment when they offer applicants full time jobs and they do not want the investment to turn sour. “what kind of judgment does this person have?” [NY Times] . For example. [The Dartmouth] “Employee theft and fraud cost US retail businesses more than $50 billion annually. and groups they claim to participate in just by browsing their Facebook profiles. Overall. expected graduation date.

applicants responded with the question of why they are being judged on their personal lives if Microsoft visibly notes in their Standards of Business Conduct document that specific events like political activities are “entirely personal” and to be “done on their own time. Applicants want to see that the process is fair and equal . there is no way to objectively screen numerous different applicants.1 Separation of Professional and Personal Life A main argument for applicants against employers prescreening them using Facebook is that the social network websites are intended for personal use. There is a difference between personal and professional life and many applicants want to keep their work life separate from their personal life. Not all applicants are guaranteed to be using the same websites or even using any social networking website at all.Schultz 9 4. One example that was given includes a statement from a Microsoft manager. who openly said they use Facebook to research applicants and that “it’s becoming very much a common tool. 4.2.2 Applicant Arguments 4.2. [Government Events] Applicants argue that it is not right for employers to use Facebook for such professional uses like prescreening.” [Microsoft] Applicants argue the hypocrisy involved with using a personal service like Facebook to do professional work like prescreening.2 Objective Screening Another applicant’s concern is the lack of objective screening when employers use an online social network for prescreening.” [NY Times] However. With each social network website offering its own unique features.

religious views.Schultz 10 for all applicants applying for any position. it could result in unfair subjective prescreening practices. “Information found on the internet is not entirely factual. Political views. Applicants personal views are also apparent in the specific network groups their involved in. many personal life views are in plain sight when viewing an individual’s profile. And prospective employees fear that with no formal list to compare and contrast all applicants when using the informal background checking of Facebook. There is no way for employers to see an applicant’s profile information without seeing their personal preferences. Even factual information on the internet can be taken out .com] 4. Applicants are concerned that if employers prescreen using Facebook. Applicants wonder if this information might have an influence on employers if they research and view their profiles to prescreen them for a job.2. but what if it’s subconscious? [Connelly] The employer is going to see this information if they do any kind of search for the applicant on the social networking sites. and even sexual preferences are just a click away when using Facebook. they might encounter incorrect information.3 Personal Views When using Facebook. Applicants and employers both know that these qualities cannot be used to influence a hiring decision.2. candidates argue employers should not be able to see any part of their profile. As a result. [Entrepreneur. [Facebook] 4.4 Inaccurate Information Social networking websites do not offer any kind of guarantee that they provide and display only accurate information.

” “Facebook rape” is the term given to a specific Facebook account that has been “accessed by a third party.5 Privacy Infringement Some applicants are aware that Facebook is a public service and the things they post are publicly accessible. but they still believe it is a privacy infringement to misuse such information. it is intended to be viewed by public friends and peers. Applicants ask.2. unknown to the account’s owner. Another way employers might receive inaccurate information on applicants is if their Facebook profiles had encountered “Facebook rape. which alters and adds humiliating or otherwise derogatory words to the account’s profile for the purpose of a prank. but finds multiple students with the same name. 4.Schultz 11 of context. There is no way for the employer to know which one is the correct student applying for the job. [The Crimson] .” [Jones] Additionally what happens if an employer searches a student by his name and school. This would give a completely wrong picture of the applicant and might ruin their chance at getting the job. what if an employer enters a search and then begins to research the student from the given results but does not realize it’s the wrong person. And though this act is intended to be a joke. An applicant complains that if he uploads something to the website to be visible.” [Urban Dictionary] This “Facebook rape” can range from changing sexual preference to posting incriminating photos. Applicants explain and argue that this is not what the website was intended for. applicants worry that a false persona would be portrayed if an employer happens to view their profile under this tampered state. Employers are neither the applicant’s friends nor peers and they do not have the right to view their profile only to misuse the available information.

followed by an overall conclusion answering the addressed ethical question. The collective results will allow for a detailed analytical summary.1 Main Issues 5. 5. Next. For instance. an employer might use themselves or a fellow employee that has alumni status in your collegiate network to view an applicant profile. Or employers might use existing employees that exist in the same regional network in order to perform their research.1 Privacy The first issue I will address is regarding the privacy concerns. Specifically. And what if the employer has no current employees that exist in either of these categories? “An employer can hire current…students to do the research.1.” [Daily Pennsylvanian] These are all possible ways for employers to view a typical applicant’s profile that has the default privacy settings assigned. each argument will be examined and analyzed with documented sources including the Software Engineering Code of Ethics along with other official documents. . your profile is setup to allow users the ability to search and view your profile if they are in the same network. how are employers attaining applicant information during their research? By default. Ethical Analysis The ethical question has been asked and the surrounding arguments have been stated from both parties.Schultz 12 5. each having various persuasive reasons.

And we will use the specific case that an employer is able to view messages between applicants by setting up two people talking in the food court. However. When applicants join the Facebook website. and coworkers. they agree to the Terms of Use document which allows posted information to become public and available to its users.Schultz 13 Except by examining exactly how the employers are getting their research on applicants. So even though the content might be posted on the website and the employer can get access to see it.” or “coworkers. family. we can see that employers are misusing the service.” [Facebook Terms of Use] Overall. Facebook states on its website that it is a “social utility that helps people communicate more efficiently with their friends. . [Facebook Terms of Use] This argument of the employers can also be put into perspective by a real-life scenario. So now we have these two people talking amongst themselves in the middle of a public mall. so we will set the location to take place at a public mall.” Additionally. This claim is true to an extent.” “family. the site is intended to allow for users interaction within a “trusted environment. they agreed to not use the content for any commercial use when they created their own personal account.” None of the discussed ways for employers to attain access are considered to be “friends. Thus if employers do use particular information that was solely found on the Facebook website to prescreen applicants. Employers claim it is a public website. And the employers continue to argue that they are permitted to search and use the information on Facebook because it is “free” public information. it is a violation of Terms of Use. the employers are misusing the public service as well as using it under false pretense in order to perform their research to prescreen applicants. the Terms of Use also states that employers are not allowed to use the user content for any commercial use.

1. and with the client’s…knowledge and consent.02 that software engineers should be “informed of standards before being held to them. shouldn’t the employers also have to get consent before they can use Facebook to research applicants? If we acknowledge the code of ethics section 2. you give an employer your résumé. many applicants are not aware that Facebook can be used as a tool to screen them. Is that right? It’s a public place! But isn’t it a private conversation? Another issue to examine regarding the privacy issues is that employers are doing research without any consent.2 Discrimination The second topic I will bring to question is the possibility of discrimination when employers use Facebook.03. In addition the SE Code of Ethics also state in section 5. It is something you give to them and you directly choose what to disclose to them. [Jones] So if employers are required to get consent before performing a formal background check.Schultz 14 What if someone came over only to stand directly over there shoulders listening to every word the two people said. In the more traditional prescreening process. Facebook profiles contain a lot of personal information such as . they have to give notification and permission in accordance to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.” [SECOE] It is clearly stated in the SE Code of Ethics that consent is necessary. However in order for employees to perform this background check. 5.” [SECOE] With no consent or any prior permission. Another common way is for the employers to do a formal background check on your criminal and credit history. Many applicants believe this is a violation of privacy. it states that software engineers should “use the property of a client…in ways properly authorized.

Along those lines. When employers research applicants. And what if employers are “subconsciously discriminating?” There is no way to guarantee that employers are not taking these qualities under consideration. The applicants also brought to attention a good argument of why companies like Microsoft prescreen based on one social aspect. but then say to keep it out of the workplace. and sexual preferences.” Age. and even martial status are all characteristics that can be easily found just by looking at an average Facebook profile. the section 8.Schultz 15 political stances. but are completely irrelevant when it comes to job qualifications. but also towards making judgments determining if an applicant can uphold company policies through the usage of Facebook. These characteristics are not appropriate qualities for an employer to judge any applicant. [EEOC] But is there a way to ensure that employers are not using this information to screen applicants. shouldn’t the process of hiring be too? How can you expect to have one without the other? . gender. That is a pretty hard decision to make just by using the social networking website. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission directly states that employers are not allowed to discriminate on any of such terms in addition to the traits of age. gender. The employers claim to just be looking for “red flags. The workplace has a separation of personal and professional life. Discrimination ranges beyond just personal life views.07 of the Software Engineering Code of Ethics states that engineers will “not give unfair treatment to anyone because of any irrelevant prejudices. all of this personal information is clearly visible.” but they also go on to say they are asking themselves if this person can represent the company in the future. or personal interest. religious views. especially when the website is focused on personal life and not the professional aspect.

When employers do use Facebook to cross reference accuracy with other documents. The last issue of discrimination deals with subjective screenings. they should at least inform the applicant. How can companies offer objective prescreening using Facebook. the applicants argue with a direct opposite statement claiming that the information on Facebook can easily be false.05 stating that engineers should “disclose to all . However. if employers do use Facebook to prescreen applicants and do find something that they do not approve of.3 Accuracy The third and final issue that I will examine is the concern of accurate information being portrayed onto the Facebook website. then do they get special treatment? And if applicants don’t have a Facebook at all do they get frowned upon? In order to offer an objective prescreening process. The SE Code of Ethics addresses this issue in section 4. The information could be out of context or incorrect. they really are no certain ways to ensure that the employers are viewing accurate information. 5. However. they cannot.1.Schultz 16 Facebook is not a professional tool and it is too easy to discriminate between applicants using Facebook based on its nonprofessional context. How can you compare and contrast amongst applicants if everyone does not have an equal advantage? If an applicant has a “good” Facebook. The employers have argued that résumés do not offer the best solution to prescreening applicants with half of them containing errors and that Facebook offers a better solution. when not all applicants have a Facebook? Simply. Facebook should not be allowed unless all applicants are given prior notice that it will affect the employers decisions during the hiring process.

Furthermore. discrimination.03 of the Software Engineering Code of Ethics. By informing the applicants of known conflicts. The lack of ability to guarantee employers non visibility of conflicting personal information makes Facebook an unethical tool in the researching and prescreening of . I have also concluded that the employer’s use of Facebook is unethical and unjust. It is unethical for the employers to use the website under the false pretense of a friend or peer. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that certain personal information cannot be considered when applying for a job. 5. And even though employers do not unlawfully view an applicant’s personal information. they should inform the applicant and explain the problem. considering the user content is “free” public content.02 and 2.” [SECOE] I interrupted this to mean that if an employer finds something that they do not approve of.Schultz 17 concerned parties those conflicts of interest. the employer’s usage of this information to screen applicants is still in direct violation of the Facebook Terms of Use document under the non-commercial usage section. I have been able to develop a conclusion to the ethical question using various documented sources. the employer’s lack of prior notification and permission from the screened applicants are considered unethical when we look at sections 5. Regarding the issue of discrimination.2 Summary Analyzing the main issues of privacy. and accuracy in much detail. I have concluded that employers have been misusing the social networking websites when researching applicants. this enables the applicant to clarify any incorrect data and also give a face to face interaction between the employer and applicant.

There are many ethically issues that arise for employers when they use Facebook. Since there is no way to determine if the user content on Facebook is accurate. Prescreening with Facebook does not give any feedback to the applicants and no conflicts are addresses. Conclusion While the online social networking websites continue to grow. University administrators. And as the websites age and mature so will their purpose and functionality. However as I have illustrated. has also led to the usage of the Software Engineering Code of Ethics. Ethically. It is just too easy to discriminate amongst job candidates using the social networking website. . The last issue of accuracy regarding visible user content. employers should not ethically rely on websites like Facebook to make crucial hiring decisions. it is seen unethical because of section 4. all parties involved should be notified. In addition.05 of the SE Code of Ethics. law enforcements. Facebook offers too much of a personal and not enough of a professional aspect to its users be an objective screening resource.Schultz 18 applicants. And when employers currently do use Facebook to prescreen applicants. 6. and employers will continue to use the online networks until they are explicitly not allowed. it would be a smarter investment for all employers to just take the proper time and the proper professional steps to correctly screen their applicants. employers do not have any way to ensure they are looking at the right candidate. employers should rely solely on relevant information that has been gathered from a reliable source only after receiving permission from the applicant. so will the amount of users. If there is any conflict of interest. In the end.

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