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Saturday, September 27 • 11:21 - 11:41
"Compressing Comments: Reactions to Perceived Organizational Control via Social Media Surveillance"

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Background: With 73% of internet users using social network sites (Pew Internet, 2014), important questions have been raised regarding privacy and identity management in online venues. Through implied surveillance, organizations may influence the way that individuals feel they can present themselves online. This influence can lead to identity compression (McEwan & Mease, 2013).  Due to the outsize influence of workplaces in society, individuals may feel that they need to conform to generalized professional standards (McEwan & Mease, 2013) or to the gaze of selected high status others within the workplace (Hogan, 2010). New stories highlighting organizational consequences may provide warnings to individuals regarding the need to remove presentations of undesirable facets of self or face adverse actions in the workplace and job market.  

Objective: This paper explores comments on a Yahoo! article reporting on a trend of employers asking for social media passwords during interviews. While reports of such behavior on the part of employers may be overblown, the comments represent collective assessment of perceived organizational control via surveillance of social media.

Methods: An inductive qualitative theme analysis was conducted on 4,725 unique comments.

Results:   Some commenters placed the blame for the problem of asking for Facebook codes on the employers or higher authorities. Commenters found it was unethical for employers to gather such information and also thought it was bad hiring practice because asking for Facebook passwords would yield discriminatory information that employers should avoid (such as race, age, creed, sexual orientation) or because people who gave up passwords easily would not be good stewards of the organization’s internet security. Commenters also pointed to asking for Facebook passwords as one stopping place in organizational creep, noting that employers already ask for drug tests and credit checks and speculating how far employers will go in the future.  In regards to higher authorities, many commenters invoked images of fascism (typically by invoking Hitler or Big Brother but also through blaming Obama or Republicans for promoting an authoritarian state). Some comments encouraged resistance through refusal (simply not giving up the passwords), manipulation (providing false account information), and quid pro quo (asking for the interviewer’s password). Other commenters suggested that individual users are at the root of the problem. These commenters sometimes praised themselves as virtuous non-users and argued for the irresponsibility of social media users for using the sites at all or posting undesirable artifacts to their Facebook account.  Other commenters thought asking for passwords was reasonable for occupations such as law enforcement (good for some) and that only those with something to hide would express concern about giving their password.

Conclusions: The emerging codes represent a complex reaction to organizational surveillance. The collective commentary illuminates several paradoxes in reactions to identity compression. Commenters appear to want to remain concealed from organizational gazes while remaining a part of the greater social network. In claims to fascism and organization creep they express futility, but another vein of the commentary presents individuals as being able to outsmart authority by either manipulating technology or staying off social media. These findings may reflect the difficulty people have in living multi-faceted crystallized selves while presenting mediated compressions of self (Tracy & Trethewey, 2002; McEwan & Mease, 2013).


Hogan, B. (2010). The presentation of self in the age of social media: Distinguishing performances and exhibitions online. Bulletin of Science Technology & Society, 30, 377-386.

McEwan, B., & Mease, J. (2013). Compressed crystals: A metaphor for mediated identity expression. In C. Cunningham (Ed.). Social networking and impression management: Self-presentation in the digital age. (pp. 85-106). Lanham, MD: Lexington.

Tracy, S. J., & Trethewey, A. (2005) Fracturing the real—self—fake—self dichotomy: Moving toward crystallized organizational identities. Communication Theory, 15, 168-195.


avatar for Bree Mcewan

Bree Mcewan

Associate Professor, Western Illinois University
Researching intersection of interpersonal and computer-mediated communication. Would love to chat with people about measures (recently published Facebook Relational Maintenance Measure and have Affordances measure in the works) and linguistic analyses (working on some LIWC stuff... Read More →

Saturday September 27, 2014 11:21 - 11:41
TRS 1-129 Ted Rogers School of Management

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