Managing the risks of social media screening
Social media has played a dominant role in our daily lives. These digital platforms are fundamentally influencing the way we live, from communicating, working, shopping, and even changing employee screening best practices. Over the last few years, many companies have started to use social media such as Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on as tools to screen prospective employees.
Employers can learn about potential applicants’ personalities from their social media posts, such as how they interact with other users and if they have ever committed violations, for example making hate speech statements, racial slurs, obscene language, or sharing explicit pictures. LinkedIn, for example, allows prospective employers to verify professional expertise.
Although social media screening can provide additional information that would nowhere be found in a CV or an interview, this kind of screening is full of gray areas that the screeners and employers should pay heed to in order to hire candidates with the right fit.
Social media screening risks
In contrast to other types of checks – criminal checks, educational checks, personal data checks, etc., information on social media is unstructured, and there is so much data that extracting useful information becomes difficult. The screener needs to be aware of Too Much Information (TMI) when checking on the candidate’s. Therefore, the screening policy is required, which allows them to only extract information based on the rules and to avoid privacy violations.
There are various rules applied in flagging social media posts, which depend on the screening company. There are common categories of red flags, including discriminatory behavior, violence, professional misconduct, racy/explicit images, drug related images, and others. In addition to setting up a screening policy, it is important to apply the policy consistently throughout the screening process.
As for employers, before having their candidates’ social media checked, they are expected to define the major areas of risk in their businesses – brand, financial, legal, etc. Of them, some job positions may be more public-facing and more exposed to mainstream media – for example, brand ambassador, public relations, or executive level positions all necessitate candidates with social media activities to reflect the organization’s face. Meanwhile, some job positions might not need this screenings. Having the definitions would ease employers to set their priority, to save time and resources.
Furthermore, for important job positions in which applicants will have access to organizations’ finances and assets – for example, hedge fund managers, any red flag categories discovered in their previous social media posts might be taken into account as potential behavioral issues. For strategic positions, social media screening becomes an integral part of employment background screening.
Put the context to the findings
A candidate’s professional and day-to-day life can be very different and not every individual really shows their true self. Employers may find their candidates posting obscene content, commenting harshly, or discriminatory against race, religion, gender, and other sensitive topics on social media. Such content can be categorized as red flags.
However, to decide whether these red flags need to be taken into serious account, employers need to put time context to the findings. For instance, if a discriminatory content was posted seven or ten years ago, the candidate may be a different person now.
Candidates who participated in political demonstrations, wore clothing with the logos of certain organizations or political parties or made political comments may also be flagged by screening companies. In addition to providing a snapshot of the candidate’s reputation and personality, the red flags also reveal their opinions on sensitive subjects.
Again, analyzing the information requires context, as quoted from American painter Kenneth Nolland, “context is the key”. The candidate who makes political remarks, such as expressing constructive criticism to the government, would not necessarily subject the company’s image to risk. However, even if the comments were presented in a decent manner, statements that are political should be taken into consideration when applying for employment that require public appearance, such as brand ambassador or public relations.
When done effectively, the screening may provide several benefits. It can disclose critical data that enables employers to make better informed recruitment decisions, helping them to guarantee that every employee is the right fit.
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