Legal online behavior no basis for work discrimination

Legal online behavior no basis for work discrimination

With the explosion of technology across the globe during the past 30 years, our world has become increasingly smaller with each passing minute. Too small, some might say.

With the advent of social networking Web sites such as MySpace and Facebook, peoples’ lives are suddenly on display to the entire world. Such a widespread proliferation of personal information has never been seen before.

With the joys of being able to connect with old friends half a world away, however, come consequences.

No, I’m not talking about a 14-year-old girl running off with a 40-something software engineer from Sheboygan, Wis. who she met online. While that’s the fashionable knock on social networking Web sites nowadays, anyone with half a brain knows not to set up a meeting with or exchange sensitive personal information with strangers. That has been drilled into childrens’ heads since long before the beginning of the Internet.

I’m talking about an issue that affects today’s job-hungry college students everywhere – potential employers or college authorities looking at your Facebook account.

It’s a real threat and real people have been affected. Take, for example, 27-year-old Stacy Snyder.

On the eve of her graduation from Millersville University of Pennsylvania, Snyder was denied her teaching certificate because of a photo on her MySpace page that, according to a university official, promoted underage drinking. She was granted an English degree instead.

So, was Snyder handing out bottles of Jim Beam to neighborhood trick-or-treaters? Was she letting little Timmy do Jell-O shots off of her midriff at Shady Acres Day Care?

No, the photo in question featured Snyder imbibing an unidentified beverage from a Mr. Goodbar cup, with the caption below reading “Drunken Pirate.” That’s all, and because of that photo, the administration apparently thought her unfit to educate children.

Employees at firms across the country have also found themselves in hot water because of relatively benign antics made public via social networking.

The time has come for a line to be drawn in the war for Internet privacy. Web sites such as MySpace and Facebook are quasi-private mediums that deserve to be treated as such. Sure, opponents of the stance will say that employers and universities are completely within legal boundaries when looking at someone’s Facebook or Myspace account. Hey, that’s true. There’s no law against it. The Internet is public domain. The fact that it’s not illegal, however, doesn’t necessarily make it ethical.

Look at it this way: if a professor walks by a group of students having a presumably private conversation about underage drinking, which happens hundreds of times daily on a college campus, does the professor do anything?

Of course not. That’s a private conversation and none of his or her business. It’s common courtesy and respect for the maturity of the individuals involved not to break up the conversation to play a game of “Spanish Inquisition.”

Facebook is like a conversation between friends on the Internet. A public exchange is treated fairly: it’s theoretically open to everyone, but respected by the general population as private business. Public domain activities should be granted the same level of respect.

To cut a long story short, relatively harmless pictures of college parties and the occasional salty exchange between friends over the Internet should not affect a student’s standing with an employer or a university.

If TCU or my current employer finds pictures of me dealing black-tar heroin to a bunch of middle-schoolers out of the back of my Mitsubishi with a clearly unapologetic look on my face, it’s probably best that they do something about it.

Otherwise, though, they should mind their own business.

David Hall is a sophomore news-editorial journalism major from Kingwood.