Social networks are here to stay. Right now Facebook says they have 110 million users worldwide. It can be a valuable insight into a person's life and character. On the other hand, it should be used within the context of legal hiring practices.
Facebook and Myspace are examples of the phenomenon of people networking over the internet. Essentially people are given a personal web site where they interact, socialize and network within communities. Communities can organize socially, geographically, by workplace or any other number of ways people can interconnect. It is done by making a post to their web site in the form of pictures, words, videos etc.
The simple answer is to search for the person you are about to hire and see what it says! Actually it is not that simple. Users can make their profiles public or private. If a person makes their profile private you need to request to be added to their network. As a potential employer it is unlikely that would be appropriate so what you are left with is the public profiles.
An example of how it might work is as follows. You are interviewing youth counselors for a program to keep kids off the street. You log into Facebook and one of the applicants is talking about all the drugs and partying he/she has done on the weekends. This probably is not a good influence for kids. In other words you gain insight into the person and who he/she is away from the office.
Conversely, you find a candidate's profile and you see that they are working weekends volunteering to coach a youth soccer league and part of the big brother program, then you probably have a winner.
As with all information gathered online for free, take it for what it is. It can add or detract from a candidate's overall profile but should not be used as a litmus test.
A perfectly good candidate could have had one wild weekend in their life and unfortunately for them it is now in the public domain. Other candidates may not have anything published online but are constantly 'living life to the fullest' so to speak. So keep the information in context and make it part of your pre-employment screening but don't base a hiring decision solely on what you found on Facebook or MySpace.
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