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Team Obama applicants face Web checks of Facebook pages, blog posts

Incoming administration seeks history of social network profiles, blog posts, e-mail and IM

By Heather Havenstein
November 14, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - President-elect Obama relied heavily on Web 2.0 during his campaign, prompting some to label his incoming administration as a Google-enabled government. Now, his transition team is carefully screening potential new White House employees for any wayward Web 2.0 activities that could embarrass the new president.

Applicants for jobs in the Obama administration are being asked to provide copies of e-mail and text messages, as well as links to blog posts and to Facebook and other social networking profile pages that could embarrass Obama, according to an article in yesterday's New York Times.

Obama saw firsthand how effective social networking can be in organizing grassroots support for his presidential campaign as his supporters created 35,000 groups and organized 200,000 events using the My.BarackObama.com social network.

The campaign announced a week ago that the social network would continue operating even though it could be used to protest Obama policies. For example, 20,000 supporters used that social network during the campaign to organize an online protest of Obama's support of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The White House is not the only employer scouring the Web 2.0 world for information about potential hires. More than one in five employers search social networking sites to screen job candidates, according to a survey of more than 31,000 employers by CareerBuilder.com in September. Of the hiring managers who use social networks, one-third said information found on such sites caused them to reject an applicant for a job.

Micah Sifry, a blogger at TechPresident, said that the effort to check on an applicant's Internet use is a logical undertaking to minimize the potential for future embarrassment.

"In the Internet age, the odds are close to zero that there isn't a picture somewhere online of you picking your nose, or chugging a beer, or doing something embarrassing," he added. "Let's hope that the Obama vetters focus on the important stuff, like financial or ethical misbehavior and conflicts of interest. Let's not create a situation where people are afraid to express themselves online because someday someone might use their words or image to embarrass them or their boss."

He went on to predict that embarrassing Web 2.0 content will follow the same path as the past marijuana use of political candidates. "It will present a serious problem to the first few pioneers, but it will fade over time as relevant," Sifry said.

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