Law Students Say Message Board Postings Are Costing Them Job Offers

from the if-it's-online-it-must-be-true dept

As people increasingly live and document their lives online, stories about potential employers doing web searches on job candidates and turning up information candidates would rather not have them see -- information that often costs them a shot at the job -- are becoming more common. The Washington Post has a front-page story on this topic today, focusing on some law-school students who aren't having a lot of luck finding jobs, and blaming it on message board postings. What makes this story a little bit different is that the students didn't make the postings themselves, they're just the subject of certain threads and messages -- some which could possibly be viewed as defamatory, while others are simply unbecoming (such as a discussion of a female student's breasts). The employers weren't finding the students' MySpace pages or blogs, or other sites documenting their personal lives, but rather their inadvertent digital resumés were being created by other people. The article seems to put the blame on the owner of a particular site that's popular among law students, but that's misplaced -- perhaps the more questionable activity is on the part of employers who are using this information. If they're going to search the web, they need to have the understanding that people can't control what other people say or post about them (similar to the idea of hearsay in a courtroom), and that not every mention that casts a student in a poor light is true, or an indication of their character. It's also not entirely clear why potential employers should consider many of these comments relevant to their hiring decisions, though one person says law firms are afraid of candidates who could attract controversy. Of course, it's also possible that comments a person labels as "defamatory" may be unflattering, but true. While site owners have no legal liability for what third parties post on their sites, thanks to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, at least one company senses an opportunity here, and searches for potentially damaging content online and "destroy it on behalf of clients", which we'll assume to mean they drown site owners with cease and desist orders and threats of lawsuits akin to legal bullying. All in all, this sounds like quite a bit of overreaction -- not just on the students' parts, but from their potential employers, too.

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  1. identicon
    Beefcake, 7 Mar 2007 @ 12:49pm

    Re: Re: What?

    Sure, you should be responsible for the company you keep. Should you also be responsible for the other students admitted to a school or a class? Or if someone sees you on the street? We don't know who posted or what was posted about the boobs. Because boobs are out there for all to see, it could just as easily be some guy in the back of a class whom she's never met and thinks she's hot as someone she keeps company with.

    Additionally, someone being "top notch" has nothing to do with the results of a Google search. An idiot can just as easily have a clean 'net profile as a top notch person. That's why there are things like resumes and interviews.

    Having said all that, yeah-- if these students are that brilliant, I doubt a shady 'net profile with questionable sources is the only reason they were passed over. If it is, I agree-- you're better off without them. Places with top-notch people find them by talking with them.

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