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The ethical risks of using social networks as a tool in recruitment and selection

With the emergence and increasing popularity of SN tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn in the HR field, more employers and recruiters have started to use the information available on these sites (Brown & Vaughn, 2011) in order to screen not only job applicants but also passive potential candidates.

Consequently, it became important to make a thorough analysis of potential and significant risks, especially in ethical terms. Table 6.3 presents some of the risks found in a search of the literature on SN use.

As noted, SN information is easily accessible by and visible to employers and hiring managers (Chu & Snider, 2013), however, it also carries the risk of introducing biases to the screening process. For instance, possible bias via Facebook occurs when hiring managers reject suitable applicants after looking at their profile picture, which they believe reflects the applicant’s personality (Sameen & Cornelius, 2013). This reduces the likelihood of the applicant being invited for an interview (Caers & Castelyns, 2011). Empirical research indicates that hiring managers are often influenced by factors such as age (Lahey, 2008; Weiss & Maurer, 2004), gender (Riach & Rich, 2002; Swim & Hunter, 1995), sexual orientation (Dryda- kis, 2009; Weichselbaumer, 2003), race (Cesare, 1996; Pager, 2003), obesity (Roehling, 1999) and facial attractiveness (Tews, Stafford & Zhu, 2009) when screening candidates.

Therefore, by using information from sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn to screen applicants, employers are potentially violating privacy rights, obtaining misleading or inaccurate information about an applicant, and receiving protected information that an HR professional otherwise would not inquire about in order to conform to the employment legislation (Brown & Vaughn, 2011; Elzweig & Peeples, 2009; Slovensky & Ross, 2012).

Table 6.3 Risks of using social networks in the recruitment and selection process.



Inaccurate or incomplete information

When screening SN information, employers risk receiving inaccurate or incomplete information about a candidate (Dennis, 2011; Elzweig & Peeples, 2009; Slovensky & Ross, 2012). The profile may be falsified or created to make the applicant appear better or worse than they are, depending on the intended audience (Johnson, 2011); the information may also be outdated (Slovensky & Ross, 2012).

Misidentification of applicants

It is not always easy to determine if it was actually the applicant who posted the information on the SN profile (Dennis, 2011). Also, because of the popularity of SNs, it is possible that the profile an employer is looking at is not actually the applicant’s but a profile of someone who has a similar name (Slovensky & Ross, 2012).



An applicant who discovers their SN information was screened may feel that their privacy has been violated and thus perceive that practice as having low procedural justice (Slovensky & Ross, 2012). These perceptions can influence an applicant’s decision to accept or reject a job offer (Bauer et al., 2006; Blacksmith & Peoppelman, 2014; Slovensky & Ross, 2012).

Invasion of privacy

Employers use a variety of measures to gain access to information from SN profiles, which may or may not violate the individual’s right to privacy (Benraiss-Noailles & Viot, 2012; Slovensky & Ross, 2012).



Employers are able to choose whom they want to hire, fire or promote without direct limitations (Elzweig & Peeples, 2009). That can introduce a bias in the process (Blacksmith & Poeppelman, 2014).

A survey of 300 hiring professionals showed that 91% of surveyed employers use some sort of SN to evaluate applicants, and 69% have reported rejecting an applicant because of unacceptable profile content (MacLeod, 2011). To reinforce this, some studies have shown that employers usually reject candidates in the screening process if: applicants have inappropriate photographs on their SN profiles; have posted drugs- or alcohol-related information; have insulted their previous employer/colleague/friend or relative; have poor communication skills; have posted discriminatory comments regarding religion, gender or race; have stated incorrect qualifications; have shared any confidential information about a previous employer; and have links to criminality or have an unprofessional screen name (Careerbuilder, 2014).

Based on all this, some authors claim there are two important concerns about employers using these tools. The first is the potential of a claim for discrimination. In the US, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964 makes it unlawful for an employer to make employment decisions based on race, religion, sex or national origin (Darragh, 2012). Similar legislation exists in the UK and most EU member states. Despite the current lack of legal guidance and legislation, employers must be vigilant in relation to discrimination that may occur when recruiting via SNs.

A second type of discrimination pointed out by some authors is when potential candidates with little or no web presence are overlooked or excluded when using SNs as the only recruitment tool (Bartram, 2000; Feldman & Klaas, 2002; Singh & Finn, 2003). Effland (2010) warns that, even though the internet is considered a public domain, laws will soon be needed to address the use of information gathered on a potential employee using SNs. For instance, ensuring there is transparency in decisions to include or exclude specific candidates (Effland, 2010).

Another ethical concern is invasion of privacy and security (Singh & Finn, 2003). Although creating a LinkedIn or Facebook profile greatly enhances users’ online visibility (for better or for worse) employees may still feel their privacy has been violated when current or potential employers gather information from their profiles that could influence their chance of being recruited or employed (Davison et al., 2011). In the matter of security, Zeidner (2007) states that by resorting to online recruitment methods, some security aspects should be emphasized since with the high exchange of information (contacts, personal data), companies and candidates may run some additional risks of having confidential information accessed by or leaked to third parties.

From these studies we can conclude that, regarding SNs’ presence in recruitment and selection, each advantage seems to bring with it an ethical concern. Although the fast pace and development of SNs is an obstacle in dealing with these concerns in good time, organizations need to consider these issues and publicly state how they intend to manage these dilemmas ethically.

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