Social media screening – beneficial or breach?

Social Media

When looking for jobs, one thing candidates may not consider is that their social media activity may be part of the equation. And why should they? Social media is something you engage in during your free time, employers don’t see that, right? 

Wrong. Many people forget that, depending on your privacy settings, information posted online is publicly available, accessible to friends, family – and prospective employers. Employers very well may look up a candidate’s social media profile. And if they discover posts about frequent wild nights out, sensitive photographs, or engagement in lewd or illegal activities online, they’re likely to pass over that candidate.  

“An increasing number of organisations now see social media as a legitimate way to answer questions about a person’s suitability for a job, find the best cultural fit, and prevent bad hires.” 

– Angela Preston, SVP and Counsel, Corporate Ethics and Compliance at Sterling

The idea of getting a holistic view of a candidate is one that is attractive to many employers. According to a 2018 survey conducted in the US by CareerBuilder, 70% of employers check out a candidate’s social media profile during the hiring process. 

Of course, this varies by industry, with CareerBuilder revealing the top industries using social media screening to be IT and Manufacturing. The most common socials scanned are LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

However, in the practice of social media screening lies an imbalance which is fraught with controversy, with benefits weighted toward employers. Organisations can avoid negligent hiring lawsuits by circumventing the hire of a candidate whose social media displays “objective indicators of toxic, illegal or inappropriate behaviour” (Sterling). Where a resume details skills, a candidate’s social media displays their everyday behaviour, allowing employers to determine if they are a cultural fit for their company.

Monash University’s Karen Sutherland raises the important question: “Is it ethical to judge a candidate based on what they do in their own time away from work?” While this information may be publicly available, the candidate may not wish to disclose certain things to their employer, particularly personal information like political views, religious affiliations, etc. It is essential for organisations who intend to conduct social media screening to remain transparent in its practice, and gain consent from applicants.

Additionally, social media can present inaccurate information, and candidates cannot determine who comments on their photos or posts, or what they are tagged in. However, candidates can utilise social media to work in their favour by posting their involvement in community work, professional or academic achievements, etc.

But what if a candidate doesn’t have social media? Or, were this check opt-in, what if an applicant opts out? Are these individuals more likely to be passed over in the hiring process because of these decisions? This is where the process becomes murky; a standardised approach is necessary for fairness in hiring, but when this approach cannot be applied across the board, it creates an uneven playing field.  

In her article Social Media Screening and Procedural Justice: Towards Fairer Use of Social Media in Selection, Eva Rossen says, “Without the necessary precautions, social media screening cannot be considered procedurally fair, as it opens up far too many opportunities for inaccurate or job-irrelevant information, lack of transparency, discrimination, recruiter biases, and privacy violations”. So what would these precautions be? 

Obviously, consent is the first step; making sure candidates are aware of what will be screened. Next, a standardised, objective process, in which only information relevant to the role is assessed, and the organisation remains transparent in its methods. In the mission of objectivity, one option is outsourcing this check to a third party.  

While Sterling and its Australian subsidiary Sterling RISQ currently provide social media screening checks, detailing the benefits on their website, CV Check’s stance is that, currently, “the limitations of social media screening outweigh its strengths”. Here at Vetting.com, we do not offer social media checks, but you can view the checks we offer here.

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