The uproar over photos and messages associated with the Twitter account of Overland High's Carly McKinney, aka CarlyCrunkBear, offers a cautionary tale about the ways in which social media has changed the professional landscape. But a new bill headed to the Colorado legislature could make losing one's job for imprudent social-media usage a little more difficult.
The Social Network Privacy Act, sponsored by Colorado Representative Angela Williams, a Denver Democrat, wasn't inspired by McKinney's situation. But it could help active users of social media like her by making it illegal for employers to demand that current or potential employees provide the username and password of their social-media accounts.
The idea for the bill came from reading stories about other states that have implemented similar measures, Williams says.
"One of the things I thought about is, if you have a social-media account, and that is a personal account, it has nothing to do with the employer. That is private information that doesn't have to be disclosed."
Currently, six states have enacted social media privacy laws: California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan and New Jersey. A handful of others have similar legislation pending.
Williams' bill does not prevent employers from viewing profiles to "ensure compliance with applicable securities or financial law or regulatory requirements" or "investigating an employee's electronic communications," but it would put basic privacy protections in place.
In the meantime, Williams stresses that people need to become more aware of how social-media usage can affect them.
"As a user, you have to realize that when you are using social media, if you put it out there on a public site, all bets are off," she notes.
The bill is still undergoing revisions, but Williams hopes to have a final draft ready by next week.
If the legislation passes, could it help McKinney should see lose her job? Unfortunately for CarlyCrunkBear, the bill is not retroactive.
Although Williams has yet to officially present the bill, she's already heard rumblings of support from the American Civil Liberties Union, and she is optimistic about gaining other supporters once the final version of the measure is finished.
"We just think this bill is getting a lot of traction," she says. "It's getting a lot of attention, so it tells me the social technology highway moves so quickly. This is all about privacy -- it's a privacy act."
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Here's the most recent version of the Social Network Privacy Act.
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