The October 18 Cyber-vetting managers article here on Management-Issues is an Interesting piece. It seems that as with most of life, two perspectives exist here.
From the employer's perspective, what's the difference between checking a social networking site and getting feedback about an applicant from a very honest character reference? I don't know of anyone who would give the name of a personal reference who would spill the whole truth about when the applicant pushes the social envelope, so getting to the truth about someone might be a refreshing change. Social networking sites tell us a lot about a person that we'd never hear in a reference check.
From the employee's perspective, how does one's sense of humor or political preference affect his/her ability to perform the job for which s/he is applying? Besides, don't people have a right to private life in which they can vent frustrations?
I am aware of several highly-respected professionals who shine in their jobs that also have a pseudonym under which they blog their frustrations with the world. I imagine if people learned about such activity they might think differently about such people. But again, how does their private venting affect their on-the-job performance?
Since we've not seen much in terms of legal cases regarding this type of employee screening, we'll probably see the practice continue. Accordingly, it makes sense that if a person is concerned about a potential future employer having a problem with the applicant's personal life, it's not that difficult to create an alter-ego pseudonym to use on the social networking sites.