As the general public has jumped onto Facebook and Twitter in the past few years, more employers are now using social networks as human resource screening tools. Though there may be nothing illegal with businesses viewing public social media profiles, that action could end up leaving businesses in a tough spot - and could even cause considerable harm.
A new study published recently in the Journal of Business and Psychology has found that using social networks to screen employment candidates could negatively affect the company's image with potential employees. The study also warned that in the worst cases this type of activity could have legal implications.
"Social network spying on job candidates could reduce the attractiveness of an organization during various phases of the selection process, especially if the applicant pool at large knows or suspects that the organization engages in such screening," said William Stoughton, lead author of the study and a psychologist at North Carolina State University. "Because internet message boards and social media provide easily accessible forums for job seekers to share their experiences and opinions with others, it is very easy for a soured applicant to affect others' perceptions of an organization."
The study surveyed job candidates on the hiring practices of hypothetical companies and found that businesses that review social network profiles were less preferred. Stoughton and his colleagues found that study participants felt that their privacy was violated by such practices, and that some of them would consider legal avenues for restitution if they encountered social profile screening. Study participants also interpreted such a screening procedure negatively as a sign of how the company might treat employees.
Though the study warns businesses that poor performance and high turnover might result from a social network screening policy, the study's authors are pragmatic when considering whether the practice will end in the near future. Potential hires are advised to stop using social networks as private forums with which to interact with friends and to remove any damaging material from their profiles to protect themselves from hiring screenings.