A medical student recently offered up a topic for debate that we thought was timely and relevant. “Is it a good idea to create an alter identity on Facebook using a fake name or a nickname for privacy?”
The idea behind this question relates to privacy on several fronts. One is the current and accurate belief that residency and fellowship programs may view Facebook accounts to have a look at candidates from a different perspective. This is a definite possbility and there are no guidelines or agencies monitoring the use of Facebook in screening applicants. Medical school admission committees and employers in the general market are included in the pool of personnel using Facebook as an additional screening tool.
If you have nothing to hide, then why do you need the privacy? With the level of today’s social media capability, a well-meaning friend may post a photo of you where you appear to be engaging in questionable activities, when you actually are not. Privacy settings change constantly and you must keep up with them to ensure that your account isn’t suddenly vulnerable. You should check your Facebook account regularly to remove any posted comment or tagged photo that you do not want viewed or associated with you.
What do you do with the friend that is politically ultra-conservative and decides to make it known all over his Facebook page, but it does not reflect your political views? In private, you agree to disagree on political issues, but if an outsider views your page, it appears that you have the same beliefs as your friend. Having friends from various beliefs, cultural backgrounds, and lifestyles represents an open and accepting person. Can an administrator or employer tell the difference? This leads to the question of how representative of your identity your Facebook profile really is. Perhaps it is more what the viewer projects onto the information. Do you need an interpreter to fill in the viewer the stories behind the postings to make sense of your true identity? How reliable a source is Facebook for our beliefs, values and overall identity?
Should there be regulations and guidelines as to how employers and administrators use Facebook to make decisions about applicants?
This question led to several articles where the trends in employers asking for Facebook login and password information is argued to be “unfair, coercive, and violates the terms of service on Facebook itself.” However, an article in Forbes magazine also notes that there is no legal precedent preventing future or current employers from requesting that applicants friend them or allow access to their accounts.
All of these articles mention that government agencies seem to have the greatest support in using this tool as a screening agent. If you decide to that a residency position at an academic institution is the right match for your training, be aware that most of these will indeed be government institutions. Your privacy is then again at risk, so a “backup” Facebook account that is pristine with posts that include only family (the ones that don’t embarrass you) and select friends might be a salient option.
If a residency director or attending presses you for Facebook password information during an interview, politely decline. “Giving out my Facebook password constitutes a breach of the service agreement I signed,” should be an acceptable response. Erin Egan from Facebook has recently come out and announced that it has changed its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, making requests to share or solicit a Facebook login a violation of the social networks' rules. Egan also cited possible legal action from Facebook against violators of these rules. However, if asked to accept a friend request so the program can view your account, you are placed in a precipitous situation.
If you thought you were safe using a nickname, be forewarned; we came across an article stating that Congress is debating whether posting a fake identity on Facebook should be a felony or not. Whether or not a nickname falls under the category of a "false identity"--we don't know. But it would be ideal to have more options for privacy while connecting with family and close friends.
What do you think? Let us know.
To read a copy of the article about Congress debating whether using a fake name on Facebook should be a felony, click here:
For article on fairness of employees requesting Facebook passwords:
For Forbes article on employers requesting Facebook passwords:
For PCWorld article on interview with Egan from Facebook on this issue: