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The Dangers of Including Social Media in the Hiring Process

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Social media screening is no longer a rare concept in the workplace. It seemed unusual for a company’s HR department to look at employees and candidates in the past. But as social media became mainstream, so has social media screening. One survey found that 90 percent of employers find that looking at candidates’ social media accounts is important.

In the past, most recruiters only looked at an applicant’s LinkedIn account during the hiring process. After all, this platform is employment-oriented and is specifically designed for people to connect in a professional setting. But now, recruiters also look at popular platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

Though social media screening has become a part of the recruitment process, many are still apprehensive. For example, some applicants were denied jobs because of the content of their social media accounts.

On the recruiters’ end, social media screening is like walking on thin ice. And they need to trudge carefully because of its legal and ethical considerations.

Relevance to the Job

It can be argued that the contents of an applicant’s social media accounts are not related to their job. So looking at these accounts is unnecessary and can only lead to certain problems.
For example, say a company is recruiting programmers to help in creating and monitoring insurance websites. These programmers do not have PR-related tasks in their job descriptions. So looking at their social media might not be that helpful.

Also, people curate the content of their social media accounts. They don’t accurately depict what kind of person an applicant is or whether they have a good ethic that matches the workplace environment. As such, recruiters shouldn’t put much weight on a person’s social media presence when hiring.

Racial Discrimination

If recruiters aren’t careful, social media hiring can lead to discrimination lawsuits. An applicant might claim that they’re being discriminated against based on their race, appearance, age, and other personal characteristics disclosed on their social media accounts. In this case, it might be ideal for recruiters to disclose to applicants that their social media accounts will be checked as part of the hiring process.

Employers may also be accused of discrimination for things that are out of their control. For example, LinkedIn has a huge racial disparity. In the U.S., 45 percent of LinkedIn users are White, while 42.2 percent are Asians. Latinos only make up 6 percent of the user base, while Blacks make up 3.9 percent. Thus, prioritizing LinkedIn in the hiring process can make companies seem to discriminate against races that have limited to no access to LinkedIn.

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Freedom of Speech

Depending on how recruiters approach social media screening, applicants may feel like their right to freedom of speech is being restricted.

For current employees, a company might impede their freedom of speech by silencing them. The company might restrict employees from stating personal opinions about their employer. For example, say a current employee makes a harmless remark that the bathroom on their building floor is often in disarray. The company doesn’t have the grounds to silence this employee, which can otherwise cause legal trouble.

For applicants, recruiters should be careful not to restrict applicants from stating how they feel about the hiring process, even if they see such content. Applicants are free to express their opinions. As long as these statements don’t cross the border of defamation, leak confidential information, or issue violent threats, recruiters don’t have to be concerned.

Right to Privacy

Applicants might feel like their privacy is being invaded when their social media accounts are perused by recruiters.

Recruiters will check applicants’ social media accounts to do some background checks on them. What are their interests? What kinds of texts, photos, and videos do they post? Through social media posts, recruiters will try to gauge if the applicants are the right ones for the position and the company.

Applicants can easily prevent the invasion of their privacy by setting up their accounts’ settings based on their preferences. For example, an Instagram account can be locked so that only one’s followers can see posts. Or on Facebook, the entire profile can be put in private.

Social media screening can be important in the hiring process. But recruiters must be skeptical about what they see in an applicant’s social media account. In addition, recruiters should not prioritize social media screening in the process. It’s better to leave this step towards the end of the process to prevent bias and infringement of rights, among other possible issues.

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