1. The liability issue. In this case, will the FB combing practice increase the potential liability associated with improper hiring practices, and if so will it lead to a significantly better method of finding quality employees that will offset that risk? And in this case, the answers are yes, and no respectively.
No one really get’s banged on really egregious stuff on the hiring end any more. (Like, “No black people need apply!”) Instead, they lose money based on their inability to prove a standard of constancy. (You refused to hire this guy because he failed a drug test, but you hired this other guy who failed.) Reviewing all that type of data on FB – posts, pics, links, what friends post and link to, etc. – is an invitation to breach of constancy. There’s simply too much data being reviewed too subjectively. You might not have meant to refuse to disproportionately hire a protected class of employee, but it will be far too easy to make it look like you did. When hiring, the fewer amount of criteria used to make your decision the better. (e.g.: “experience/knowledge, demonstrated competence and perceived value-added to the employer” is pretty good.)
This kind of weeding was really designed to guard against hiring the crazies and the potentially malicious. It’s a poor tonic against the latter because they’ll have everything set up to see what you want to see in advance. It might help against the crazies, but if you really need to comb someone’s FB page to do that then you need to revisit your other hiring practices.
2. The good management issue. If you’re asked to do this for a potential employer, it’s a pretty good sign of an unhealthy corporate culture. It certainly looks on the surface that they will be the type of employer to assume a kind of power dynamic that is more about control for control’s sake (more common than you might think), and less about a partnership based on a marriage where one side brings skills and the other capital to the table. This makes for a crummy place to work for the employee, and on the whole creates an adverse selection system for the employer since many of the people you most want to hire won’t want to work for you.
Bad news either way you look at it.
In reference to point number 1, this drifted past my Facebook feed this morning. It may be fictitious, but illustrates exactly what Tod was talking about…