Social Media Screening in Recruiting: Biased or Insightful?

Social Media Screening in Recruiting: Biased or Insightful?
By Anonymous | February 23, 2022

Did you know that your prospective employer may screen your social media content before initiating a conversation or extending a job offer to you? You may not know that a grammatical error in your social post could make your prospective employer question your communication skills, or an image of you drinking at a party could make them pass on your resume.

Social media does not work like a surveillance camera and it does not show a holistic view of someone’s life. People post content on social media selectively, which may not reflect who they are and how they behave in real life. Regardless of our views on the usage of social media for background screening, social intelligence is on the rise.

Social Intelligence in the Data Era
If you google the phrase “social intelligence”, the first definition you may see is the capacity to know oneself and to know others. If you keep browsing, you will eventually see something different stand out prominently:

Social intelligence is often used as part of the social media screening process. This automates the online screening process and gives a report on a candidate’s social behavior.

The internet holds no secret. In this data era, the capacity to know oneself and to know others has expanded more than ever. According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, 70% of employers research job candidates as part of the screening process and 57% decided not to move forward with the candidates due to what they found. What’s more surprising is that the monitoring does not stop once the hiring decision has been made. Some employers continue to monitor employees’ social media presence even after they are hired. Almost half of employers indicated that they use social media sites to research current employees. About 1 in 3 employers have terminated an employee based on the content they found online.

Biases from Manual Social Media Screenings
LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are commonly screened platforms. You may question if it is legal to screen candidates’ online presences in the hiring process. The short answer is, yes, as long as employers and recruiting agencies comply with the laws such as Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Civil Rights Act in the recruiting and hiring process.

While there are rules in place, complying with the rules may not be easy. Although employers and recruiting agencies should only flag inappropriate content such as crime, illegal activities, violence and sexually explicit materials, social media profiles contain a lot more information that does not exist on the candidates’ resumes. Federal laws prohibit discrimination based on protected characteristics such as age, gender, race, religion, sex orientation, or pregnancy status. However, it is almost impossible to avoid seeing the protected information when navigating through someone’s social media profile. In an ideal world, recruiters should ignore the protected information they have seen and make an unbiased decision based on the information within the work context, but is that even possible? A new research revealed that seeing such information tends to impact recruiters’ evaluations on candidate’s hire-ability. In the study, the recruiters reviewed the Facebook profiles of 140 job seekers. While they clearly looked at the work-related criteria such as education, their final assessment was also impacted by prohibited factors such as relationship status and religion – married and engaged candidates got higher ratings while those who indicated their beliefs got lower ratings.

Some people may consider deleting their social media accounts so nothing can be found online, but that may not help you get a better chance with your next career opportunity. According to the 2018 CareerBuilder survey, almost half of employers say that they are less likely to give a candidate a call if they can’t find the candidate online.

Social Intelligence: Mitigate the Biases or Make It Worse?
There has been heated debate over whether social media usage in the hiring process is ethical. While it seems to increase the efficiency of screening and help employers understand the candidates’ personality, it’s hard to remain unbiased when being exposed to a wide variety of protected information.

Could social intelligence help mitigate the biases? Based on the description of social intelligence, we can see that it automates the scanning process which seems to reduce human biases. However, we don’t know how the results are reported. Is protected information reported? How does the social intelligence model interpret grammatical errors or a picture of someone drinking? Are the results truly bias-free? Only those who have access to those social intelligence results know the answer.