COMMENTARY | A recent blog post by Y! Tech notes that an increasingly number of colleges and employers are required their students and workers to surrender their Facebook and other social networking passwords. This has obviously drawn some criticism from individuals who question whether this is a violation of personal privacy. Will this trend continue, or will protests cause organizations to stop this practice?
Why are they doing it?
I do understand why schools might want access to social networking sites. Unfortunately, many students make some very poor decisions when it comes to what they post on social networking sites such as Facebook. This is why schools like the University of North Carolina have required their athletes in particular to allow administrator access to social networking sites. Amongst the status updates and links to funny videos, there is a bevy of inappropriate material that can become very public in a short period of time. This material can be linked to schools and employers, even if the information is not specifically about that organization. Granted, the individual will argue that these are their own personal viewpoints, but unfortunately social networking sites have sometimes become very public. This has blurred the lines between public and private behavior.
What is privacy?
Are the concerns about violated privacy justified? Of course. As an educator and an employee, I would not be thrilled about sharing passwords with anyone. Many people do not have inflammatory material on their social networking profiles, but they also don't necessarily want schools or companies to have access to private information. Some people just like to keep their lives as private as possible, even if they aren't doing anything wrong.
Nothing to lose?
Institutions might challenge privacy concerns and suggest that innocent people have nothing to lose by turning over the passwords. This may be true, but privacy isn't always about practicalities. Rather, privacy is about principle, and most citizens would rather keep a boundary between themselves and outside entities. In addition, what happens if people have particular views that get into areas of politics, religion and society? Are they not allowed to have those anymore?
A sign of the times
As disturbing as this may be to people, it may be a sign of the times. Schools may feel like they cannot afford to be embarrassed by the tweets, posts and updates that are published by their students. This may eventually cause students to hide their profiles, or shift away from using certain types of social networking. Regardless of what happens in the future, it does show how powerful social networking sites have become.
The author teaches at the college level and prior to entering the classroom he spent many years in higher education administration. On occasion he also enjoys the pure entertainment of substitute teaching at the high school and middle school levels.