Would you hire someone who regularly posts hate speech against women and minorities online? Probably not. Someone who engages in activities like that probably won’t make a team player. And, you don’t want your reputation damaged from being associated with them either. This problem leads to an important question about whether HR should check an applicant’s social media, or cyber-vet, before hiring them. Cybervetting is increasingly common nowadays, but it’s not without its own ethical and legal problems
What is Cybervetting
Cybervetting, or online vetting, is when corporations check an applicant’s social media presence when vetting them for employment. The goal of cyber vetting is to judge an applicant based on their online behavior. Most companies perform cyber vetting by checking an applicant’s LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook profiles, whereas some also check an applicant’s other online presence.
Typically, companies check on how an applicant presents themselves online, what information they’ve shared about themselves online, especially on LinkedIn, and whether there are any red flags in hiring them. You can think of cyber vetting as an additional check to ensure an applicant is right.
Role of social media in recruitment process
Social media has had a diverse but powerful impact on the recruitment process. Primarily, social media has made it easier to network, easier to spread false information, and ostracize both recruiters and applicants for certain behaviors.
It’s very normal for people to network on sites like LinkedIn, making it easier for everyone to know potential employees or employers to contact when needed. It’s a common practice for a professional to connect with management or HR professionals in a company they want to work for.
They’ll then form a professional relationship with the company’s leadership and introduce themselves for a desired role. The goal is to win over the company’s leadership before applying for a job to secure it.
2. False information
Unfortunately, one of the internet’s downsides, in general, is the increased spread of false information. You can easily find inaccurate information, either positive or negative, about a company or professional online that will impact your decision to connect or work with them.
For example, some applicants will fake their experience or skills on LinkedIn to receive a job they’re not qualified for. It’s also common for people to send mass communications to large numbers of recruiters. Recruiters have to sift through these communications even though they’ll likely have irrelevant or false information.
Social media cancellation is common today, even among more-professional sites like LinkedIn. For example, it’s common for recruiters to ‘name and shame’ candidates who supplied false information as a warning to other recruiters to not hire those individuals.
It’s also common for applicants to publicly post against unresponsive recruiters, warning other applicants to not apply to them. Social media cancellation damages the canceled party in both circumstances.
While social media cancelation can warn both recruiters and applicants about potential scammers or fraud, many companies and individuals are also falsely canceled, so the consequences of being canceled are harsh.
Effectiveness of Cybervetting
So far, cybervetting has had debatable effectiveness. It helps avoid the most overtly undesirable applicants, but it also leads recruiters to terminate applicants over minor details or personal bias.
For example, IACP reported that 70% of US employers refused to hire an applicant because their social media profile included:
- Provocative or pornographic content
- Photographic evidence of alcohol or drug use
- Admission of unethical activity
- False educational or professional information
- Release of confidential information.
Research from Oxford Academic also found that cybervetting introduces bias during applicant hiring. For instance, an organization may choose not to hire an applicant because they posted a picture of themselves drinking alcohol.
The organization may have no problem with alcohol consumption but not hire the candidate anyway because they don’t want employees that show their alcohol consumption online.
Cybervetting can also cause recruiters legal issues, especially in states that have strong privacy laws. There is a genuine concern with applicant privacy because of cybervetting.
Pros and Cons of Cybervetting
These are some of cybervetting’s biggest pros and cons.
1. Highlight outwardly disturbing behavior
A recruiter can potentially find online evidence of an applicant engaging in violent or abusive behavior not reflected in their criminal record. For example, they could find a comment or post by the applicant where they issue threats or use derogatory terms.
2. Provide insight into professional experience
A professional LinkedIn account is the fastest way to understand an applicant’s professional experiences. For example, the applicant could have positive recommendations from previous employers. This information indicates they’re likely a good employee.
Also, digital and visual professionals, like graphic designers, photographers, and writers can easily showcase their professional work on their social media, giving you a better insight into their abilities.
3. Easier and faster to conduct
Social media screening can be quickly and effectively performed by an HR professional without additional help or finances. Cybervetting especially contrasts with conventional background checks, which are both time and money-intensive.
An HR professional can cyber vet a candidate just by Googling their name and checking their public social media accounts.
1. Information from social media may not be reliable
Information on social media is notoriously easy to falsify, both positively and negatively. Someone else could easily smear your applicant’s online reputation with fake posts or images. Someone else can also make fake accounts with your applicant’s name and photos.
An applicant can also falsify their own information, potentially claiming professional and educational experience or achievements they don’t have. There’s also no way to verify their social media information.
2. Unconscious Bias may still sweep in
An applicant’s social media account will almost inevitably reveal their personal information, including their ethnicity, marital status, and sexual orientation. Your recruiters may have a conscious or subconscious bias against people from specific backgrounds. As a result, they may make unobjective decisions around applicants, and you can even be legally liable for that bias.
Tips for cybervetting
These 4 tips will help you effectively cyber vet applicants.
1. Perform cybervetting late in hiring process
Only use cybervetting as the last stage in the vetting process and inform the applicant they’ll be cybervet beforehand. As a result, your recruiters will have less bias when cybervetting the applicant, and you’ll avoid potentially violating privacy laws or making your applicant feel ambushed.
2. Do not overvalue information from cybervetting
Your recruiters should ignore the vast majority of online activities by an applicant. Things like what they did at a party 5 years ago or an embarrassing photo of them shouldn’t impact their hiring chances. Only use cybervetting for objectively bad actions like hate speech.
3. Compliment cybervetting with other tools
Cybervetting is not a replacement for conventional background checks or reference checks. In fact, you should thoroughly perform conventional background checks to validate professional or educational information posted on an applicant’s social media.
4. Outsource cybervetting to a different agency
There are professional cybervetting agencies that cyber vet applicants for you. These agencies are professional and perform cybervetting with less bias and reduce your legal liabilities.
In conclusion, cybervetting can potentially be useful for identifying the worst candidates for a job, but it also increases both recruiter bias and your legal liabilities. So, you should do it carefully, preferably by outsourcing to a professional cybervetting agency.