Outside consultant: Checking an applicant's social-media history

  • Updated: June 15, 2014 - 2:00 PM

question

Regarding a prospective new hire, is it appropriate to examine the person’s social-media activity?

Nathan Munn

Mediagrif Technologies

nmunn@mediagrif.com

 

answer

In this time when the access to information is available to anyone at any time, the question comes up as to whether we should be able to look at social media as a means of gaining information about people that we might like to hire. The problem arises because we need to consider to what level social media is actually social as opposed to information that could be or should be used in a business context.

As an employer you’re interested in hiring the individual most qualified for the job. Social media is a way for you to find out information regarding the individual that is not necessarily going to be accomplished through reviewing a résumé or an interview.

The other side of this is that the job candidate may consider that his or her social-media interactions are, in fact, social only and therefore has some consideration of privacy. Yet there is often an assumption that if someone places information on the Internet, he or she is making a choice to allow that information to become part of the public domain.

The most ethical choice for a prospective employer is to simply request information about an applicant’s social-media activities. In other words, ask the prospective employee if you could have access to his or her Facebook site or other social-media interactions. By asking for permission, you respect the right to choose whether you have access to that information and whether it’s considered private. If you access the information without asking for permission, you significantly violate the applicant’s right to choose and whether they might consider it social or private information.

One last point: If you request access to an applicant’s social-media activities and the individual refuses, that should not be necessarily considered an intent to hide information from an employer. It may be that the individual truly does not have anything to hide, but values his or her privacy.

About the author

Dawn R. Elm, Ph.D., is a professor of ethics and business law at the Opus School of Business at University of St. Thomas.

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