Yesterday, there was a minor squall that swept quickly across my Twitterological system. One of the departments in my field that maintains its own, somewhat official Twitter account trumpeted the names and schools of the finalists for a senior search in their department. I do have a screen shot of the tweet, but figured that I’d have to redact so completely that there wasn’t a lot of point in sharing it here. But it read:

Delight! Our job search found exceptional candidates: [candidate1]- [school1], [candidate2]- [school2], [candidate3]- [school3]. Job talks coming up!

The post has since been removed, appropriately, but not before it was linked and critiqued by some folk with pretty substantial numbers in terms of followers. I don’t want to name, shame, or blame here; rather, my point is a broader one about social media and the search process, and why folks reacted so strongly and so negatively to what was in all likelihood a genuine expression of excitement and appreciation.

I think that many of us often assume that everyone in a department will know where to draw the lines when it comes to social media. And yet, the landscape changes fast enough that we don’t always have time to think about how they might interact with what may be tried-and-true procedures when it comes to things like job searches, which are not exactly everyday occurrences, particularly in the humanities. And the intricacies of the search process can be opaque, for anyone who hasn’t experienced it from every angle. There are parts of it that I know nothing about because I have neither a partner nor a family, for instance.

Whoever was responsible for the tweet, then, may not have understood some of those intricacies. In the case of a senior search, candidates aren’t always public about their applications, particularly within their home departments. It may not be a secret (although in some cases, it can be), but the fact is that an interview (and even a campus visit) is no guarantee of departure. Candidates don’t stop working or mentoring because they have a campus visit elsewhere, and they may wish to be relatively quiet about the fact that they are looking. The ethics of who to tell and when is a complicated one, and much more involved than “Are you leaving? YES NO (circle one)”

For junior searches, the issues are different, but no less important. Different schools operate according to different timetables, and broadcasting the names of finalists can affect their chances at other schools (“If that person’s a finalist at X, there’s no way they’ll come here. Next.”). It can affect their ability to negotiate other offers, and in some cases, it might even affect their strategy as they approach that campus visit.

It’s tricky. Social media accustom us to a certain level of sharing, to making a certain portion of our everyday lives public, but in the case of searches, campus visits, and the like, there’s a disjunct. A campus visit is a fairly “public” event on the campus being visited, but for the candidate, the campus visit is the final stage of what is supposed to be a confidential process. I’ve seen departments put the names of finalists on publicly-accessible calendars, announce them by name on their homepages, etc., for probably close to 15 years now. But that’s often an issue of one person making a mistake that’s easily correctable. With FB and T, every single person in a department has access to a more-or-less public audience.

At the campus visit stage, the membership of the search committee grows to include the entire department. All of a visitor’s interactions should be treated as “meeting with the (expanded) search committee.” Don’t post finalists’ names anywhere online. Err on the side of caution when it comes to tweeting or updating anything that happens in the context of the visit. Don’t tweet job talks. I’d even be hesitant to friend or follow a candidate until after the process was complete–even something as innocuous as that can be aggregated into privileged information if, say, several members of the same department happen to follow/friend the same person at the same time.

I say all this as someone who’s generally in favor of transparency when it comes to academia. But there are varied and complicated reasons for confidentiality during the application and interview process, and while I believe that hiring programs should be open about the stages of the process, candidate confidentiality isn’t ours to break.