What Should Facebook Really Be Used For?

A Utah apartment complex has demanded that tenants friend them on Facebook as a requirement of their leasing agreement. It also asked them to sign a release allowing the complex to post photos of residents and their visitors on the site. Residents are outraged and lawyers question the legality of the move.

“The biggest issue that I have with it is that it seems to be discriminatory against elderly individuals and disabled individuals who are unable to utilize an online presence such as Facebook,” attorney Zachary Myers explained to KSL-TV.

Social media has permeated every crevice of our lives. It is becoming a vital part of how we shop, how we communicate and the information that we consume. More than this, it is increasingly becoming a vital component of how others view, judge and interact with us. From employment to insurance claims and now even our credit ratings, social media increasingly plays a role in whether or not we succeed in fulfilling our aims.

First came the employers

Ashley Payne was fired from her teaching position over a Facebook photo of her holding alcoholic beverages. Tania Dickinson was fired from the New Zealand Social Development Ministry for posting that her position there was less than useful. A member of the British Royal Guard was fired for posting rude comments about Kate Middleton. An employee of the National Suisse in Switzerland was fired just for posting on the huge social media site when she was meant to be working from home.

Employers also now use Facebook when making hiring decisions. Seventy-seven percent of employers use social media sites for recruitment purposes. NPR posits that some employers are using online profiles to gather information related to questions they aren’t allowed to ask — about sexual preferences, religion and the like — in order to discriminate against potential employees.

Then came the insurance companies

In 2009, Canadian Nathalie Blanchard lost her health insurance benefits. She was diagnosed with major depression in 2008. She left her job at IBM and had been living largely off of insurance payments since then. When the company saw she enjoying the beach and living it up at a club on her social media account, they cut her benefits.

Health insurers aren’t the only ones using social media to deny insurance claims. Auto insurance agencies also scour the web for ways to deny claims. A post about driving on medications or a photo of a person playing sports when they’re meant to be unwell can kill a claim.

In England, some home insurers are even charging that photos of a vacation on Facebook invalidate a claim in the event of burglary. You are, they reason, advertising that you are away and thus leaving the door open for criminal activity.

Is credit the next frontier?

In some countries, lending companies have started to look at social media activity as an indicator of the creditworthiness of potential borrowers. Often, the borrower is judged not only by their own activity but by their social network. Banks believe that they can predict a person’s likelihood to pay on their loans based on whether their friends pay their own loans.

Financial regulations in the United States make this practice less attractive, but that hasn’t kept companies from looking into the idea. Facebook possesses a patent for technology that assigns creditworthiness based upon a user’s social network. A handful of startups are interested.

Allowing lending organizations to use social media data to determine creditworthiness could help people who would otherwise be unable to get a loan. On the other hand, there is likely a darker side to this seemingly small step toward less online privacy.

In essence, we would be allowing large companies to use social media data to judge our personalities and determine our futures. What do you think?

—Erin Wildermuth


Recommended Articles