The Null Device

I've got a perfect doppelgänger

In the US, employers are paying increasingly close attention to candidates' Facebook accounts; demanding that they hand over their Facebook passwords, allowing them to investigate their profiles, their past activities and the company they keep to determine whether they are of sufficient moral fibre:
In Maryland, job seekers applying to the state's Department of Corrections have been asked during interviews to log into their accounts and let an interviewer watch while the potential employee clicks through wall posts, friends, photos and anything else that might be found behind the privacy wall. Previously, applicants were asked to surrender their user name and password, but a complaint from the ACLU stopped that practice last year. While submitting to a Facebook review is voluntary, virtually all applicants agree to it out of a desire to score well in the interview, according Maryland ACLU legislative director Melissa Coretz Goemann.
And some universities are requiring students to friend official accounts and monitoring their social network activity:
Student-athletes in colleges around the country also are finding out they can no longer maintain privacy in Facebook communications because schools are requiring them to "friend" a coach or compliance officer, giving that person access to their “friends-only” posts. Schools are also turning to social media monitoring companies with names like UDilligence and Varsity Monitor for software packages that automate the task. The programs offer a "reputation scoreboard" to coaches and send "threat level" warnings about individual athletes to compliance officers.
(I imagine that the assumption here is that those on athletic scholarships are not bright enough to set up friend lists and segregate their posts. After all, Facebook doesn't tell you whether you see all of a user's posts, a small portion, or in fact, whether they put you on their “Restricted” list (i.e., the “pretend-to-be-this-schmuck's-friend-but-don't-show-them-anything” list).

Demanding Facebook passwords is of dubious legality, however, if a court rules in favour of this practice, companies answerable to shareholders and concerned about legal liability may start adopting it as policy. One option is to not have a Facebook account, or deny having one; however, this could be a liability, marking one out as some kind of antisocial loner (studies have found that evidence of a social life can boost one's employability rankings, and if everyone's on Facebook, the one guy whose name draws a blank could look too much like potential spree-killer material to be worth the risk.)

If employer (or school, or governmental) Facebook surveillance becomes widespread I can see a new version of the clean-urine-for-drug-tests business model emerging, in the form of clean-but-plausibly-active-looking Facebook profiles for presentation to officials. Fill in a form giving details (what political/religious views it should espouse, where it should be between gregariously easy-going and Stepfordesquely clean (in most cases, inserting a few minor flaws for versimilitude is recommended, though the optimum degree of flaws will vary case by case; your case advisor can offer you guidance), what sorts of people, institutions and social situations your perfect doppelgänger should be seen to associate with, &c.), put in your credit card number and, presto, an army of third-world data-centre workers will assemble a profile you can show to any authority figure without fear. For a monthly fee, they'll even run your parallel life in the background for you, keeping the illusion up, posting anodyne comments about TV shows and sports matches, attending church mixers, liking big, uncontroversial brands and even giving you your desired level of a simulated social life with a network of convincing yet utterly unimpeachable sockpuppets.

There are 9 comments on "I've got a perfect doppelgänger":

Posted by: Derek R Wed Mar 7 03:34:01 2012

Aren't you, in effect, violating your friends privacy settings by letting strangers view their accounts through your name?

Nevertheless, I agree, these sanctamonious busybody do-gooders should be fucked with a hot poker!

Posted by: acb Wed Mar 7 11:44:20 2012

Handing over one's Facebook password is compromising the privacy of everyone who trusted you with access to their updates, yes. Which is presumably why it's against Facebook's terms of service.

Posted by: Greg Fri Mar 9 11:15:48 2012

Very interesting post. Although I am reluctant to predict anything could bring down this giant system, I wonder if an increasing "officialiation" might do it. FB used to be the fun thing that all the olds didn't know about. As soon as your boss and your coach and your teacher demand to be your friend, the fun goes out of it - what would you bother to do on FB if your actions were being monitored? The only logical answer being, as you say, keeping up the kind of appearances that you think your boss and teacher expect. And once FB becomes that - a somewhat benign and boring version of the TV screens in 1984, surely some new communication tool will take off among the young. I have already heard anecdotes about young teens closing down their FB accounts.

Posted by: acb Mon Mar 12 14:10:31 2012

What if, at some time in the future, one can no longer get away with not having a Facebook page (or similar profile) and still be considered a good citizen? What if evidence of an online social life within the bounds of acceptability becomes the social equivalent of a credit history, with those who draw a blank being penalised, either by the state, corporations or by one's fellow citizens (”what has he got to hide? Is he a fraudster or a fugitive sex offender or something?”), and putting in a certain minimum time on keeping up appearances, keeping one's status up to date, becomes one of those unwritten duties of good citizenship?

Posted by: ianw Sun Mar 25 03:49:03 2012

what if.. this is a fair description of what is already happening?

Posted by: acb Sun Mar 25 19:33:14 2012

Not yet; you can get away with not having an online social presence, or having only one you've logged into once or twice, 18 months ago ("I have a busy life, no time for throwing sheep or playing FarmVille or whatever"), and as yet, there are no social/reputation equivalents of credit rating agencies who will surveil your social connections and activity, distil the data into a social credit score and report to potential employers/financiers/in-laws, alerting them if you're either undesirable (associates with known troublemakers, exhibits dubious political views, shows characteristics of antisocial personality disorder) or are suspiciously bland (has something to hide). In the dystopian future, this would not be an option, and one would have the choice of convincingly playing the role of a compliant online citizen or being marginalised and ostracised.

Posted by: ianw Mon Mar 26 09:26:37 2012

oh I (thought you) meant something not quite so literal as a social/reputation rating agency; I was merely suggesting that anyone currently not on Facebook is being marginalised or even ostracised, in certain circles at least. Needless to say, people with publicly-accessible Facebook profiles (or who have theirs set to Friends-of-Friends etc) are already losing (or not getting) jobs/friends/acceptance/etc.

Posted by: acb Mon Mar 26 09:42:35 2012

There's no penalty yet for not having a publicly visible Facebook profile, though, is there?

Posted by: ianw Tue Apr 17 03:28:59 2012

what I was getting at was more along the lines of: while some people are savvy enough to notice that they lost their job because the posted [whatever] on FB, and then went on to make their profile less public (&/or made sure they delete compromising posts), others are just blissfully unaware of the 'punishment' (note: no doubt there are 'rewards' too, for this, and other things, eg. not even being on Facebook, that are arguably resulting in marginalising/ostracising/etc.]

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