It’s a Long Story: Free Speech and Internet History

Whether it’s in the home or online, privacy is a coveted asset for many. In recent weeks, a renewed concern towards personal data and privacy control arose from the wake of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal. Who can see what we’re searching for? Can our online messages be easily disclosed? These pervasive questions often frustrate consumers, yet they do not, or at least have not yet, substantially decreased their use of these social media platforms. However, although these platforms provide an outlet for our opinions and emotions, businesses are stealthily watching our movements and creeping increasingly into the platforms as well. Do users, then, ever feel that their free speech is constrained by such omniscient oversight?

In a 2012 study, provided by the applicant tracking system Jobvite, ninety-two percent of companies planned to assess candidates’ social media presence. Though users do not necessarily provide a link to their personal Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn accounts, recruiters actively seek out these profiles for a variety of reasons. One of the most common reasons for recruiters to view social media is to assess the candidates’ sociability: will the candidate necessarily be a fit for company culture? In this scenario, professionalism versus sociability are two contending forces. Companies react positively at seeing more business- and leadership-related affiliations on a candidate’s social media, and attendance at social events certainly attests to a candidate’s gregariousness. On the opposite end, recruiters are turned away by offensive, sexual, or otherwise inappropriate content. Another quality assessed by recruiters is proper conventions in social media, such as the appropriate and correct use of grammar. These factors ultimately lead into companies’ ultimate decisions on whether they should hire a candidate or not.

For prospective candidates, the presence of recruiters surveying social media begs the question of whether their materials should be self-censored. Conservative political views, expressed through posts or tweets, for instance, may generate a liberal-facing tech company’s aversion. For messages within apps like Facebook Messenger or GroupMe, how cautious should candidates be? Colloquialisms or images distributed amongst friends could potentially demonstrate lack of maturity and professionalism. Even for student publications, such as this online journal, do I dare criticize specific companies? With the fear that I may one day apply to the company and they find my article, criticism of current practices seems a rash and unguarded decision.

Of course, the extent to which recruiters are investigating candidates’ social media is unknown. It seems very likely that they make a brief assessment of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles before certainly weighing the candidates’ qualifications more heavily. Nonetheless, the question remains: what is free speech if professional outlook inhibits our voices? Free speech, as derived from the First Amendment, is delegated to the individual for matters of public concern; thus, its definition is complicated within the private sphere. While it is clear that posts which insult another individual or exhibit improper work behavior, as examples, are not appropriate, criticism of company standards or the expression of political beliefs exist across hazier boundaries.

Should we conform to moderation or stand for the values we hold close? If entering a company already diminishes pluralism, then what good is the individual destruction of pluralism on the very platforms which encourage it? Although these questions remain open-ended, it seems evident that individuals should still be aware of their online content, with companies overlooking every move.