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Accounts on Stack Overflow, github, what have you will contribute positively to your online presence and may give you an edge over other candidates with equal experience that don't have them.

However, should a negative online presence have the opposite impact? Examples of a negative online presence being, say, a public social networking account where you profanely deride your past workplace/boss, or somewhat scandalous information that could frankly be used to blackmail you, found within 30 seconds of googling the email address you use in your resume.

(Of course, I think there's a very big distinction between information that's public, and the ridiculously invasive practice of requesting social network credentials during interviews that's currently causing such a stir.)

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    Are you asking as an employer how you should consider them? If your a job-seeker then should makes a bad stackexchange question. A better question is would. – Justin Dearing Apr 20 '12 at 17:08
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Even when dealing with publicly available information...here be dragons.

First and foremost, can you prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the online presence is actually the person in question? Between people that look similar and/or share names, and some simply downright nasty trolls, it's possible that the person that posted such things is not the same person that is applying for a given position. Make sure you're making the right connection.

That said, it in part depends on what actually constitutes a "negative online presence." Defaming a current or past employer is one thing, and pretty obviously should be considered. As Chad said, such behavior can be a cancer in the workplace, poisoning the whole group. Getting drunk with friends is a different matter (so long as it is legal and doesn't interfere with work), and in my opinion, it's ludicrous to think that just because you can't see evidence of it, that no one else in the company does the same thing once in a while.

Additionally, make sure that you're not attributing behavior of your prospective employee's friend/family/acquaintances to your employee. It's easy to say "well, if my other employees do it, they're smart enough to not plaster it all over the Internet," but what if your prospective employee didn't put up those pictures (because they, too, are "smart enough to not plaster it all over the Internet")? What if someone else at the party took and posted the pictures, and someone else tagged the employee? The employee didn't post those pictures, and they have no control over the person who did. Should the employee be faulted for someone else's actions?

tl;dr - It's a sticky matter. Make sure you have your facts straight, and don't hold them to an abnormally high standard solely because you happen to have knowledge of things they do that you don't necessarily approve of as a person. Remember that they're human, that your other employees probably do many of the same things, and a given person can't control what others put online.

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    Fantastic points. It's extremely difficult to really be sure you know what you're looking at online and you're interpreting the situation correctly, and very easy to feel sure - bad combination. – weronika Apr 13 '12 at 4:44
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Let me add another perspective. I was once told by a recruiter that a potential employer said I was not the kind of person that they would want at a company because of things I said online. Considering what they found, I would lean towards the employer being a bit to sensitive for my tastes. Then again, the employer could have been overly cautious, and had he not discovered what I said, I might have done well there.

The point is, there is a lot about me other then my skills for the job in question you might like or dislike me for. Some of it you can't legally ask for, and some of it might just be stuff you never thought to ask. For example, I might raise and slaughter dogs for meat (I don't btw and that might be illegal). If one of my extra circular activities really bothers you, I'd much rather you be able to find out about that on your own, and for you to tell me I'm a bad fit.

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Pretty much everyone who has an online persona has something that a potential employer could object to. Much of which is information that is illegal for you to use in hiring decisions. From their online persona, you can often deduce someone's religious beliefs, political beliefs, race, age, sex. You can also see things that were maybe posted years earlier and the person has matured and would no longer do or say such things (especially things from high school and college). Some of the data may be associated with the wrong person. And some things that are positives (like a high Stack Overflow rep) may be negatives to other employers because the data is interpreted differently by different people.

Asking for my password to see my private persona is completely out of bounds and would immediately terminate an interview because I would not work for a company that was that unethical.

Looking a the public persona is acceptable, but it is far more likely to harm the company than help it as they might elimnate the best potential employees based on personal criteria of the person doing the checks. So while I may not be able to ask if you are a liberal athiest in an interview, if I can see it from your public persona, then I might choose not to hire you even though you are far better than the other candidates. And remember the people doing this check may not be the people who work with the person daily. So their refusal to hire anyone not conspicously like themselves can cause corporate harm (choosing less skilled employees) in the name of promoting some personal value.

Practices that lead to eliminating people based on criteria not related to their ability to the do job are wrong and should be prohibited. Checking the online persona is one of these practices. It's sole purpose is to get around labor laws that forbid asking those questions. In general it is an unethical practice.

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I would urge caution in this area it varys by jurisdiction but you can get your self in all sorts of trouble - check with an experienced HR person is my advice

Screening out applicants by looking at social media profiles could lead to discrimination in a number of ways race, religion, caste, political affiliations of friends.

For example I have several of contacts on FB who are MP's and FB did suggest Alastair Campbell as a possible contact which was fun but might freak out a Russ Perot style employer.

the American enlivenment of Alister would be some one like Rahm Emanuel.

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