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Social Media Scanning

November 15, 2021

By Sheila Hoover, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

I recently received an inquiry asking if a company should use social media scanning during the recruiting process.  At first I thought, yes, companies utilize social media to source candidates and learn more about their skills and experience.  However, the inquiry was more focused on recruiters and HR personnel scanning public social media sources to review personal information about a potential candidate looking for any red flags or posts that may not align with company values. 

Since social media has become part of our society, we have learned that what you post is there forever and can possibly affect your professional career.  I’m sure we’ve all had those moments in college or as young adults that do not reflect our true professional person.  Many people also post about their religious and political status during conversations with family and friends.  Is it right for companies to use these posts as part of their selection process?  How do they ensure those scanning the social media sources are well trained to avoid any unconscious bias in their review?

We are governed by the EEOC to enforce laws against discrimination and harassment.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate against a person on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity), or national origin.  Other laws include The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, The Americans with Disabilities Act, and The Age Discrimination in Employment Act.  During a social media scan of applicants, employers are able to view most of these characteristics.

According to Theconversation.com, due to the increasing use of social media during the pandemic, many recruiters find social media attractive as a readily available source of real-time data to find and vet candidates.  Social media is used by potential employers to check job applicants’ qualifications, assess their professionalism and trustworthiness, reveal negative attributes, determine whether they post any problematic content and even assess fit.  This process is also known as cybervetting. 

A theconversation.com online survey compared people’s comfort level with cybervetting in relation to different types of information that could be gathered from publicly accessible social media platforms. “These were readily available information in the form of raw data and metadata, meaning what they had posted, when and how; analytics information that would require processing, for example, results of sentiment analysis or topic modelling of an applicants’ posts; and information related to users’ online social network that is often used for social network analysis, for example who follows whom on social media.”

The survey found that social media users’ have privacy expectations on how their information is used.  Most are concerned with third parties using social media data to screen job applicants, even if it is publicly available.  In addition, others who are more comfortable with this practice seem to be more concerned that the social media platforms could be storing inaccurate information about them which may negatively impact their success in interviewing for a job.  These findings point to the presence of expectations and concerns with social media scanning. 

The results highlight the need for employers and recruiters who utilize social media to scan job applicants to be aware of the types of information that may be perceived to be more sensitive by applicants. The importance of employers aligning their hiring practices with people’s expectations is strong. If job applicants are aware of and not comfortable with cybervetting, companies may lose the opportunity to recruit high-quality applicants.  Many people are opting out of social media due to privacy issues.

If you are a company who social media scans, or cybervets, your applicants during the recruiting process, be sure to do your due diligence to ensure there is no bias as you are selecting the applicants.  Ultimately, companies want to hire the candidates whose skills and experience best meet the qualifications for the position and who are capable of performing the job as required.

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