I am sure we have all heard some of the social media statistics – Facebook has over 1 billion users, over 7000 tweets go out every second with over 6000 Instagram posts every second too. 

There is an unquantifiable amount of content and information about each other at our finger tips through social media platforms.

According to CareerBuilder’s annual social media recruitment survey, 70% of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates, up significantly from 52% last year. It's used to check professional qualifications and look for anything alarming in a candidate’s social profile or posts that could directly be cause for concern for the company. 

So clearly it IS a tool that is being used but what are the ethics, and is it effective? 

According to the careerbuilder survey, most hiring managers are not specifically or actively looking for negative information on candidates, but rather confirmation of qualifications, a positive professional image, with 21% looking for reasons TO HIRE THE CANDIDATE which is reassuring. 

But how do you decide what information is relevant to the role and justified as supporting a hiring decision? 

Most worrying, to my mind, is that race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, disability, age and citizenship status, which are all protected characteristics, can be determined from social media profiles. If a candidate feels they were not hired because of one of these traits, that person can sue for discrimination.

I understand that candidates could be found supporting or promoting criminal activity and hate speech, or making derogatory comments about co-workers or employers. All of which could be an indication character. Yet, this information may not be true and is certainly not the full story, let alone something that can be evaluated consistently across all candidates.

As Robert writes here in a post last year: it is common sense to inform applicants if you are going to look at social media profiles and give them the opportunity to comment. If you are going to use searches, they should always be proportionate to the job being applied for. 

It seems to me that it is a practice that can save employers from making unqualified hires but that carries significant risk.