Dear Mr. President, I hereby resign". Facebook spying goes too far.

  • Author: Lauren
  • Lauren Fisher,

This is, quite possibly, the best resignation letter ever written. Or at least, the best resignation letter to make the rounds on Twitter. Showing that sometimes social media policies in the workplace can go too far, the director of Software Development based in Ontario has recently resigned, following changes to the social media policies that meant managers were permitted to log in to prospective employees' social media accounts.

This, unfortunately, is not a joke. In the resignation letter, Reginald Scott Braithwaite explains how employees were forced to sign a new employment contract that permitted managers to 'shoulder surf' potential hires while they were on Facebook (i.e. stand over them and look at their personal profiles), or even log in on their behalf to have a snoop around.

In the letter, Braithwaite explains the consequences of this when he was forced to look at interviewees Facebook profiles, prompting one of them to email a human rights lawyer right in the middle of the interview. The letter includes:

"I got her out of the room as quickly as possible. The next few interviews were a blur, I was shaken. And then it happened again. This time, I found myself talking to a young man fresh out of University about a development position. After allowing me to surf his Facebook, he asked me how I felt about parenting. As a parent, it was easy to say I liked the idea. Then he dropped the bombshell.

His partner was expecting, and shortly after being hired he would be taking six months of parental leave as required by Ontario law. I told him that he should not have discussed this matter with me. "Oh normally I wouldn't, but since you're looking through my Facebook, you know that already. Now of course, you would never refuse to hire someone because they plan to exercise their legal right to parental leave, would you?”

It is fair to say that we are at the beginning of understanding social media in the workplace, and where the boundaries between the personal and professional should be drawn is still very much up for debate. Yet when the fallout of a social media policy includes potential employees emailing lawyers in the interview room, and your Director of Software Development resigning, something has clearly gone wrong.

It doesn't really take a genius to see that this is taking social media in the workplace too far. The problem comes with the fact that this is a whole new invasion of privacy that is possible only because of technological developments. It's not the case that social networks have allowed for new forms of behaviour that may lead to security issues, but that they've simply allowed a new way of cataloguing our behaviour or personalities. This does not mean that they should be open to investigation, particularly where personal information could potentially be used for discriminatory purposes.

And as highlighted by Braithwaite, what actual advantage does this give the employer? If you find something that might put the potential hire into a certain category - i.e. expecting a child - it then becomes difficult to make an impartial judgement as you will be tainted by the fear that any decision you do make might be bought back to you as a complaint. This case shows that we have a long way to go before we understand the rights of the employee and the employer with respect to social media, and that we're making some pretty costly mistakes along the way.