Social media screening – is it ethical?

If you happen to be reading this article online from your computer at work, your boss may be reading over your shoulder-electronically. New technologies allow employers to check whether employees are wasting time at recreational Web sites or sending unprofessional e-mails. But when do an employer’s legitimate business interests become an unacceptable invasion of worker privacy?

Social media is one of the most popular forms of communication with billions of users. Anyone can connect with anyone else, or find out information about them that may not otherwise be available.

Social media and recruitment

With this in mind, it was only a matter of time before social media began to be used in the recruitment process. The beauty of social media is that each platform can be used for different things: Facebook to connect with friends and family, LinkedIn for business networking, Twitter for news gathering, Pinterest for shopping, the list goes on…

Yes, social media is a great way to research candidates and discover anything incriminating about them, but ….

How far is too far?

As valuable as it may be, a general moral rule, for an employer to intrude into an employee’s or job applicant’s private life on social media without permission or in a surreptitious or coercive manner would be immoral under some moral ethic theories. Employers may argue that social media is a public platform, unless the candidate makes it otherwise, and that it’s their own choice to share the content that is available to anyone who searches for it.

The use social media in making hiring and employment determinations, when social media communication or content is not relevant to the employee’s ability to do the job, would be disrespectful, demeaning, and unfair to job applicants and employees, again, regardless of consent. The danger of ‘social media background checks’ is that personal information presented out of context or inaccurately may lead employers to judge candidates unfairly without their knowledge or without providing an opportunity for rebuttal. Worse yet, the surreptitious quality of the information search may be a backdoor to illegal discrimination.

Unless a company has a policy on social media screening, then recruiters aren’t technically doing anything wrong, are they?

Social media screening policies

However, in order to treat the employee with dignity and respect, candidates must be informed if social media or any other online source is used to research information about them that will affect their application, and they should be offered the chance to respond to the material discovered should it influence the hiring manager’s decision. This will allow the employee to “correct the record” , which is the way any rational person would want to be treated.

Social media screening is an incredibly difficult issue to tackle and one that should be approached with caution, clear rules and the same openness that is carried out in all other aspects of recruitment. Balancing the legitimate interests of employers and employees and job applicants, as well as drawing the proper ethical boundary between moral and immoral conduct regarding social media use is a very difficult undertaking.

Until there is a universal law on what is acceptable and what’s not, it’s safe to say for now that, ethically, social media monitoring, investigation, and job decision-making by the employer generally is moral if the information is directly related to job performance and consent is obtained or the information is truly public (and of course the employer’s policies and practices are otherwise legal).

I’ll leave you with this interesting news report …

Look forward to your views…

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