THE BLOG

Are Social Network Profiles Putting Us at Risk for Business Discrimination?

03/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When you interview a potential employee for a job opening, according to federal and state law you are forbidden to ask a candidate his or her age. Furthermore, it's illegal to discriminate against job applicants based on their gender, race or religion. But today it's easy to pre-screen candidates and find out whatever you want to know if they participate in social networks and are careless about what information they share.

For example, some social communities ask for your birth date including the year. Once you've input the information, your age appears prominently on your profile page. Because these sites won't let you proceed with registration if you fail to include the year, I have started my own personal protest by using something totally outrageous. On a local television network's site and on MySpace, I'm a 90 year old female. If you believe that then you'll be getting in touch with me to find out what plastic surgeon I use.

It's not that I mind people knowing how old I am, but I don't think the whole world needs that information. What purpose does it really serve? Unfortunately, people make judgments about both young and older workers. I've heard many stories from young entrepreneurs who feel as though they aren't taken seriously, regardless of their capabilities, because just aren't old enough to be in business.

The other big age give-away on these community sites, is including the years you attended school or the dates of employment. People can quickly do the math and figure out approximately how old you are. On Facebook, I graduated from law school in 1910. Talk about being an unbelievably precocious child.

Some sites ask for your religious beliefs and political party affiliation. All information someone could use to make an unfair, biased judgment about you. Not fair -- true! But this is the real world folks, and it happens.

I love the world of social networking. It is an excellent way to build business contacts, keep up with colleagues and stay in touch with friends and family. But be careful of what information you can include if you are using these sites for business opportunities. Even with privacy settings, savvy techies can easily get in.

Because discrimination laws haven't addressed this issue and I doubt they ever will, it because it is virtually impossible to prevent business discrimination when it's easily accessed on the Internet. So because of that, be careful not to give someone an unlawful reason to discriminate against you. In an ideal world, we wouldn't have to worry, but this is the real world and it happens.