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Should an employer ask for your Facebook login?

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Robert Collins of Baltimore poses for a photo Friday, March 16, 2012 at Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore. When Collins returned from a leave of absence from his job as a security guard with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services

Robert Collins of Baltimore poses for a photo Friday, March 16, 2012 at Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore. When Collins returned from a leave of absence from his job as a security guard with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services in 2010, he was asked for his Facebook login and password during a reinstatement interview, purportedly so the agency could check for any gang affiliations.

Steve Ruark, Associated Press

If you don't believe it is a different world than it was just a decade ago, consider this request that's surfacing from some prospective employers:

"If you want the job, give me your Facebook login and password."

It's not one I'd greet with a great deal of enthusiasm, although from the beginning I've adopted the policy that I don't post anything on Facebook that I would be ashamed to have anyone see — and I do mean anyone. You'd actually learn more about the kind of individual I am from asking for my Amazon.com ordering history.

The fact that there's nothing on Facebook or other social media sites that I'd be reluctant to show a prospective employer does not in any way change the fact that I would question why I would hand my login and password over to someone who might give me a job and why, in fact, that individual would want it in the first place.

What's wrong with having me log in at the time of the interview so the company can check out the kind of posts I make? And what's the real point, anyway?

Some of the answers, quoted in various news articles recently, seem to indicate the request is less about learning what kind of employee I would be than it is about learning whether I would say bad things about the company if I decided I was unhappy.

I think Facebook and other social media form a pretty shallow toolbox for assessing the benefits and risks of hiring a particular job applicant. Years ago, a relative of mine went through several rounds of pretty in-depth scrutiny for a government job that required a security clearance. That long-established practice makes some sense. The background check, I promise you, said more about her as she really is than a glance at her Facebook page would. She's a lurker. She doesn't post anything. She exchanges a few emails with old classmates. Photos of her grandkids are there. You will learn not one thing about her politics or her work ethic or her personal life there. How that makes her a good or bad prospective employee is a mystery.

On Facebook, I can be fake or real and good luck to the prospective employer trying to tell the difference. My friends know me in person well enough to get my "tone," to know when I'm being ironic or humorous or grouchy. A stranger has no tools to even make the assessment. And I think it gives Facebook a lot more credit and credibility than it deserves. Social media as the litmus test to pick employees or dates or much else seems fairly naive. It's like picking a watermelon based on its color. You might get lucky. I'd rather thump it or look for bee stings.

I have less heartburn with an actual employer monitoring my public behavior. At least there's a real relationship there. But if we have a decent working relationship, there are other, far better ways to monitor what I'm up to. Why I would give anyone the tools to pretend to be me or post as me or access private information is beyond me. It's one thing to ask for a copy of my bank statement and another entirely to ask for the power to move my money around. That I might be applying multiple places for a job just complicates the risk. And it places the information of others — my network of friends — who have not sought any kind of relationship with my prospective employer on display without their permission, as well.

Is it worth it?

Deseret News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by email at lois@desnews.com. Follow her on Twitter at loisco.