Saturday, November 15, 2008

Obama Wants Applicant's Web-Posting Past

So, maybe you are an HR manager checking out the latest in background check vendors. Or maybe you are a manager hiring for a sensitive position. Possibly, you are a PR person vetting someone about to endorse a product.

You may think to yourself:

"I wonder what I would see if I checked this person out on Google?"

But if you are Barack Obama, the most tech savvy dude ever to be elected to the Presidency of the United States and you are bringing people into your cabinet or the inner circle, you may be thinking: "I run the government, and I don't want to look like an ass, so I am gonna check out what these people have REALLY been doing!"

So you say to people: "Dudes, If you wanna come work with Barack, yer gonna have to tell us every damn thing you ever blogged, posted, Flickr'd, MySpaceed, FaceBooked or YouTubed in your whole damn life!"

This seems perfectly reasonable (and even prudent and rationale) to me. If I was Barack Obama, I wouldn't want some dumb ass picture of my Secretary of State doing shots at Senor Frogs popping up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal just after she took over the office, or while she was meeting with the President of Iran

According to, the talent management folks for the Obama team are requiring applicants to list - and if possible, provide copies of all posts, comments on blogs or other sites, as well all aliases or nicknames used on those sites. They are utilizing a nine page questionnaire to collect the information.

From the story by Declan McCullagh on
Translated into English, this means that President-elect Obama wants to know far more about you than his predecessors did. That requirement would force applicants to disclose information about Facebook and MySpace pages, profiles posted on dating Web sites, and even what was posted on Web sites like CNET and YouTube that allow readers to append comments.

Note that question doesn't only ask for potentially embarrassing or incendiary posts. It wants a list of "each" one.

It also asks for the URLs of "any Web sites that feature you in either a personal or professional capacity," and suggests MySpace and Facebook by name as examples. Dating sites like would be included, too.

Perhaps this won't be a problem for older Democrats vying for senior positions like treasury secretary or attorney general. But for today's Facebook-and-YouTube generation, requesting a list (and, "if readily available," a copy) of all Web site posts and comments the applicant ever made is not a trivial task to complete -- and means that the Obama administration may not be quite as tech-savvy as its reputation would indicate.

These and other questions seem to represent Obama's plan to avoid the the Lani Guinier Effect. President Clinton appointed Guinier as assistant attorney general, and then was forced to withdraw her nomination in the face of severe criticism. Clinton claimed at the time that he had not read her writings favoring racial quotas.

Way to go, Mr. President Obama!

It won't be easy for anyone to collect all this information. I know I would have a hard time doing it! Still, I would rather see candidates asked to do voluntary full disclosure up front than see damaging ugly leaks from the press or from political opponents coming out later.

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