The idea of “cyber vetting,” which involves assessing job candidates based on their online behaviour, has become increasingly common. However, a recent study conducted by North Carolina State University highlights the potential for bias in the hiring process as a result of this practice. Researchers reveal that cyber vetting, which often involves scrutinising candidates’ social media accounts and online presence, can lead to unfair moral judgments.
Many companies either conduct background screening on people applying to work for them or hire companies such as Clear Check to do it for them. The types of check will depend on the position under consideration, but may involve a basic DBS check, a credit check, or fact-checking of CVs and academic communications. The controversial part of screening is often looking at a candidate’s social media presence, and the research into cyber-vetting from NC State involved surveying 61 human resource professionals responsible for hiring across various companies. Participants ranged from executives to individuals working in staffing agencies.
Social Media Screening
The author of the study found that cyber vetting not only assesses people’s behaviour and what they post online, but also how that behaviour is presented. For instance, one participant mentioned that their company didn’t mind employees consuming alcohol in their free time but frowned upon seeing alcohol-related photos on an employee’s social media. This is a clear contradiction, as on one hand, HR professionals perceive social media as reflecting the ‘authentic’ side of individuals, yet they also expect people to meticulously curate their online image.
Numerous HR professionals who were surveyed admitted searching for family holiday photos or pictures of days out with friends on candidates’ social media profiles. However, such actions could inadvertently discriminate against candidates of certain backgrounds. For example, candidates who post photos of themselves celebrating Eid with their families are likely to be Muslim. Profiles depicting “energetic” individuals were deemed desirable by employers, and this could indirectly lead to biases against disabled or older employment candidates. It’s all a bit of a legal minefield, and anyone involved in recruitment screening using social media should bear in mind that they could be asked to justify what they looked at, and the decisions which were made at some point in the future.
Advice for Candidates
Most companies in the UK will be open and transparent about the types of pre-employment screening they are doing, and why. If social media screening is involved in a recruitment process you are going through, then it might be a good time to clean up your social media feed. As the study showed, there is no harm in posting a few pictures of a night out in a bar with friends enjoying a few cocktails. But if that’s all that you post, it might be worth considering what impression this might give to an employer, or someone who doesn’t know you. Anything which could be considered offensive should of course be deleted and think also about the comments you make on other people’s content, or which groups you have joined on sites such as Facebook.