If you have watched talk shows in the last 3 to 5 years or are the parent of a teenager you have no doubt heard of My Space and likewise you have probably heard of the disturbing trends that come with it and its counter parts like Face Book. Many have heard of and may even have children who have fallen victim to what is currently occurring regarding the things posted on these sites and a teen’s ability to get into their chosen college or get a job. A recent episode of the Dr. Phil show was an entire program devoted to this very thing and the most benign situations posing problems for those looking for employment; those featured included a former Miss Washington and 2 college students. Much of the problem with these sites is that teens post provocative, dangerous even exhibitionist type photos of drug escapades, drinking parties, underage drinking, drugs even nudity, those things being the reason behind refusal; of college admittance or employment. However this segment of Dr. Phil shows just how far college recruiters and employers have taken it. In the case of the former Miss Washington she was at a friends house simply kicking back and being silly more than anything while someone with a camera phone took pictures unbeknownst to her and posted them on You Tube. The pictures included several of her with her arm around a guy, several of her sticking her tongue out and 1 or 2 with a drink in her hand; luckily for this young woman, she had the support of pageant officials in both removing the pictures and keeping her title.
Next came the 2 college students who were set up with mock interviews for their chosen fields, one 19 the other 22, which they passed with flying colors. Yet the employers stated they saw problems when they looked at their My Space pages; in the case of the 22 year old there were a hand full of pictures of her with a drink in her hand and others of her where a drink was in the shot but not in her hand or even directly in front of her, but simply on a table that was also part of the picture. In the case of the 19 year old the issue was involving a picture of this young girl and in the background you see a shirtless young man holding what looks like a beer. The expert brought on to explain the problem with such photos stated that many employers now make employees sign morals clauses that prevent them from doing anything that would embarrass the company, that it may raise questions as to a persons judgment in thinking it was ok to post such images and that it made no sense to post them. They then moved on to an audience member’s My Space page where one of the comments posted about this person was they were such a slut; keep in mind this was a simple head shot of a young girl, could have even been a school picture, nothing else.
At face value it may seem as if the problem is the teens and what they choose to put in public; if it was just this, I might be more inclined to agree. But upon further examination and digging a little deeper this smacks of more and more discrimination perpetrated by employers not to hire individuals, particularly youth. And it is not limited to youth or those things posted on the internet; employers are now even looking into an employees credit history before hiring. A woman was fired for smoking in her own home; a man was fired from his health care worker job, despite good work performance, for being part of a rock band in his free time, a second grade teacher was fired, despite community support, for participating in a local radio show’s bikini contest. For those with more conservative viewpoints, in an Oprah special done in less than the last decade a company was recorded on tape as saying we don’t hire mothers. A news special broadcast in late 2008 highlighted an issue in Pennsylvania as well as across the country as the women there tried to make it the 23rd state where it is illegal to ask about child status and marital status, because they were using it not to hire qualified women.
It seems postings on My Space are just the latest tool in discriminatory practices by employers. What is particularly unsettling about the persons featured on the Dr. Phil show is how much employers and college recruiters have progressed from avoiding those with provocative, nude pictures or those images depicting illegal activity, to benign silly shots that should mean nothing to anyone except the person who posted them and any friends on or off line they may have. No of age 22 year old should be denied a job because there are pictures of her posted somewhere with a drink in her hand especially when it is not accompanied by any reckless or obscene behavior; the 19 year old in the posted picture was not holding the drink and for all anyone knew the person holding the bottle, that may not have been beer at all, was of legal age to drink. In fact, looking at the photo one cannot tell which of the parties in it the photographer was trying to capture. The only acceptation to this reasonable line of thinking would be if they were applying for work at a religious based organization with strong and specific moral standards, likely known to the person before applying. The only reason an employer should or would have any excuse to look at potential employee’s financial records is if they are working for some kind of financial institution and handling other people’s money. The outrageous tactics being used by employers to weed out what they consider high risk workers is exemplified in the case of the former Miss Washington and the teen audience member; in both cases the information posted was either done without their knowledge or was the comment of another person and yet they were paying for the consequences and potential consequences of the actions of someone else. The pageant winner was in the home of a friend not out in clear public view and being silly does not detract from this persons ability to be a roll model despite the indignant objection of one parent who saw both her and her actions as such. The teen audience member described as a slut had no provocative images on her page and in teen speak that could simply mean your attractive, you look good or even I want to go out with you, not the usual known meaning and should have no baring on college admittance or employment.
Thinking also needs to be broadened, as many think that the only reason to post these type of photos is poor judgment when in reality it may be as simple as someone who has a friend who moved out of town or out of state and they want to show off to their friend what they did over the weekend and this is a simple, fast way to do so. Similarly with the proliferation of the internet and the popularity of chat rooms, social networking sites and increasingly virtual or on-line only persona’s even lives that can be created with online interactive games like Second Life, people may have exclusively on-line friends they want to share parts of their lives with. Whether everyone likes it or not these are the trends and no one should be penalized for interacting in an electronic world that has become smaller. Further, despite the prevailing assumption that the on-line persona will effect the reputation of the person and thus the company, consumers on the whole do not care what someone has on their My Space page only that the person at the bank can tell them about loan rates, checking and savings account options, mutual funds and their banking related needs.
Most people do not care what people’s on-line profile looks like only that their accountant can appropriately file their tax returns, the aid worker can properly care for them or their loved one, that the person on the other end of the phone can answer their questions about job openings, medical coverage, home repair supplies or whatever products and services the company provides. The same is true with TV personalities, most people don’t care about personal information on a website only that they can report the news, create a quality talk show or are good actors; even with doctors, 911 operators, as well as other medical professionals and emergency personnel, unless it can be proved that the pictures of drunken escapades, drug activity are evidence of behavior the night before surgery or other care, people are more interested in ability to perform the procedure, give accurate diagnosis, or get them to potentially life saving medical attention. That becomes increasingly true, no matter what the job, with pictures that may have been posted years prior to their current position, only now causing scrutiny.
In addition to educating teens about the dangers of posting provocative, illegal activities on-line, legislation needs to be enacted to protect the employment opportunities of everyone in this technology age. Not only is legislation vital to securing everyone’s employment futures but to regulate what can and cannot be done with the new technology because it is fast becoming a classic case of the ability to do something before there is any regulation on it; it is how we got a cloned sheep and fears of cloned humans, it is how we got into the embryonic stem cell debate and it is how currently we have at least 2 Midwest teens charged with child pornography for sending nude pictures of themselves to each other, or the 13 and 15 year olds in one state who had sex and the 15 year old was subsequently charged with child rape because the poorly written, outdated law dictated it be so. Now everyone agrees that kind of behavior is reckless, wrong and dangerous, but criminal charges? We now think it is appropriate to not just file charges on teens willingly sending pictures of themselves to one another but charges with such a stigma; in both the pornography cases along with the child rape case the teens involved face becoming register sex offenders, clearly not what the law intended. Not only is it imperative to create legislation but many times is only a matter of changing the wording or adding to an existing law. For example, in the case of those who do post underage drinking pictures, those involving drugs or nudity, the law states that employers can only ask about felony convictions not felony arrests, misdemeanor charges, arrests or jail time. By adding a provision to include on-line photos or other related materials and evidence to that law, saying that it cannot be used as a factor in college admissions or consideration for employment unless it is clear evidence of felony grade behavior, it insures young people are not robbed of a future because of a drinking party, a spring break flashing incident or a small amount of drugs and what could quite possibly be someone else’s camera phone.
Dr. Phil made the comment during the segment asking the question is the point that they didn’t do this stuff; his response was no of course they did. But that is exactly the point; the previous generation did get away with it; and while the point is not to raise another generation of young people engaging in risky behavior, what this would do is level the playing field. It is to insure that the current generation has the same opportunities as the one before it; insures that young people do not engage in more risky or dangerous behavior because a mistake, or a perceived one, has left them with no real options. Secondly, it would prevent the excess scrutiny demonstrated in the above and give a fighting chance to those youth and young adults who made a mistake or posted the pictures years before it mattered to anyone. As for the morals clauses employers now require employees to sign; they should fully explain the clause and what it means for them and if objectionable images are found, unless it can be proved that the content was posted after an employee signed the clause then it cannot be grounds for termination.
If these type of legal changes and full disclosures of morals clauses are not put in place it will not only jeopardize the employment opportunities of youth and join the discriminatory arsenal utilized by employers, it will diminish the opportunities for those who want to use a popular hub like My Space or Face book to look for a job, post a rèsumè or network with similar age groups looking for work or groups looking for a particular type of work. It may scare away those who want to post a professional rèsumè on a site like My Space or Face Book along with other sites. Not only that but in a generation of technology savvy young people employers may face heavy competition from those young people who will go on to create their own companies, in whatever field, or work for a solely internet based company. If companies keep up this behavior contrary to Dr. Phil’s, and other experts assertions, that there will always be someone eagerly waiting to take the place of someone with a questionable internet history, companies may find themselves with no professionals to hire or less competent, less talented people filling the position. But apparently now even minor perceived frailties in a reputation mean more than the quality of service or content a person can bring to a company.