Facebook Profile Betrays Yentl's Cousin's "Jewish Credentials"

Sounds like a strange heading, I know. Well – here’s the strange story to go along with it: Israeli daily Haaretz reports on its front page today that Israel declined the immigration request of Barbara Streisand's cousin, Dale. The grounds: “his Facebook profile indicated he had been involved in Christian missionary activity in the past.” I first checked to see whether it was April 1, but given the cold rainy day (April is sunny in Israel!) realized this is a true story (could be a good script for Ms. Streisand’s next film though).

Leaving aside the grim implications of Israel’s slow decline to theocracy, this is a striking story for its privacy ramifications. We have all read about employers and prospective employers using social networking services for employee or candidate background checks (see for example here and here and here). Now here is a government department (Israeli Ministry of Interior) doing the same with potential discriminatory effects.

As ever, online snooping of this kind may yield inaccurate, misleading results. For example, Mr. Streisand says: “His previous Facebook page (…) was taken out of context. He explained to Haaretz that one of his friends had sent him a link titled ‘Click if you love Jesus,’ and that there were a few other things from his past that were found, but they had no connection to who he is today.”

In addition, it may prompt users to create fictional “digital identities” specifically to achieve their purposes and (legitimate or illegitimate) goals. Michael Fertik of ReputationDefender provides an eloquent explanation (and robust solutions) for these concerns. Indeed, in this very case, Mr. Streisand “said he has also deleted his entire Facebook profile, including the links in question. He created a new profile, in which the Israeli flag served as his primary profile photo and he lists Chabad of the Philippines and the right-wing settler radio station Arutz Sheva among his Facebook friends.”

This case and others raise interesting questions concerning the delineation of the private and public spheres; the expectation of privacy in information posted to Friends, Friends of Friends, or Everyone on Facebook and other SNS; and whether SNS should be subject to rules such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act and perhaps be considered to be Consumer Reporting Agencies, given their sway over individuals’ employment, credit, insurance and – yes, immigration decisions.

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