Why Facebook searches on job hunters should be banned


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Facebook has been no stranger to debates over privacy over the last few years.

In fact, the king of social media sites has been at the centre of a number of protests from users complaining about the perceived lack of protection afforded by Facebook's own privacy policy.

As use of the site and similar social media channels continues to grow, and we place more and more information about ourselves online, the social media and privacy debate continues to gather momentum.

In the world of HR and recruitment, there have been discussions around the use of pre-employment social media searches and how these can have a negative impact on the recruitment process.

Having considered this issue, we strongly recommend that employers and HR professionals ban pre-hire searches of job applicants via social media sites such as Facebook, and that they adopt considered approaches to the use of professional sites such as LinkedIn.

There are clearly legitimate benefits to be had from using sites such as LinkedIn both from the recruiter and job hunter's perspective as they offer an ideal platform for professional networking.

But when it comes to Facebook, there are a number of reasons for pushing it to be banned during the pre-hire stages, mainly relating to the risk that such searches could reduce the level of objectivity of recruitment processes.

For example, if a photo or video from a party is found on a candidate's profile, showing the person behaving in a way that may reflect badly on their professional image, the searcher will be left with an impression that cannot easily be undone, making it difficult to discard the information in order to adopt an entirely objective and fair recruitment process.

In many cases it is very easy to simply 'do a quick Facebook search' on a person, which can make it even more of a temptation. OPP's own research into social media and recruitment found 56% of people would be likely to check out a potential employee's online profile before interviewing them.

However, almost 30% of respondents stated they would be uncomfortable if the boot was on the other foot and an interviewer had searched for them online pre-interview.

Our research found just 10% of people were not at all concerned about their level of privacy when adding information to social networking sites, leading us to call for candidates to lock down their privacy settings so they do not leave themselves 'open' for all to see.

So, why is it that social media searches have 'fallen between the cracks' when so much work has been done by HR professionals to ensure that candidate assessments are conducted to a rigorously fair and high standard?

Social media use in recruitment may be thought of as being unconstrained by normal best practice guidelines because the medium is different, and so many think it is an acceptable means of sourcing information on a job seeker. However, social media searches should be considered in the same way as any other method of screening, and judged against the same criteria of fairness, validity, and reliability.

By their very nature, social networking sites are not naturally respectful of privacy, reputation and control which is something both HR professionals and job applicants should take into account.

Paul Deakin is senior research & development consultant at OPP

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