We are having enough problems defending our privacy from the government, let alone our employees and educators. Employers and admission boards should stop monitoring the social media activities of applicants. Not only is it uncalled for, it establishes a worrying precedent that could lead to a whole range of privacy invasions which could become normalized if this sort of behavior is not opposed.
There are some professions where we might grant that background checks are necessary or desirable. Those who work in prisons, in private with children, in security, and in intelligence agencies are all suitable candidates for some level of background vetting. However, it appears that not only are professions other than these candidates for invasive background checks, but students can have their scholarship acceptances made conditional on adding coaches to their Facebook friends list.
I cannot help but think that without the Internet the level of personal invasion these checks amount to would be immediately considered unacceptable. Before the Internet would it have been acceptable for potential employees to bug your room, attend all of your social engagements, inspect your family, or look through your bookshelves? Of course not. Why ease of access should make privacy any less valuable or sacrosanct is beyond me.
Thankfully, there are those who understand the seemingly obvious constitutional violation these sorts of background checks entail. Bradley Shear, a D.C.-based lawyer, said, “Maybe it’s OK if you live in a totalitarian regime, but we still have a Constitution to protect us. It’s not a far leap from reading people’s Facebook posts to reading their email. … As a society, where are we going to draw the line?” Bradley also points out that employers and colleges open themselves up to liability if they start monitoring students. If a student becomes suicidal, is in an abusive relationship, or experimenting with drugs and something unfortunate happens, the college could potentially be held to account for not intervening.
These background checks are on shaky constitutional grounds, unnecessary, and establish a worrying precedent. For all of its advantages the Internet is an unhealthy, invasive, and attractive tool that those in power find hard to resist, something that affects all social media users.