People can give a lot of insight into their true selves online, so it can be a sound way to get a sense of their behaviours and beliefs, and whether they will be a good cultural fit with an organization. But public outcry erupted in February 2019 when the South African Public Service and Administration Department said that it would screen candidates’ social media profiles as part of its recruitment process.

Concerns were raised around privacy and potential discrimination based on personal data, like political affiliation or sexual orientation. 

Social media screening

Social media screening in recruitment is nothing new. As the Department rightly points out, it’s an international trend: 70% of employers research candidates on social networking sites during the hiring process.

For digital law expert Emma Sadleir, social media audits should be an integral part of any recruitment process. In fact, she says employers who don’t screen potential candidates this way could be acting negligently.

That’s because anything an individual posts on social media can – and will – be linked to his or her employer, whether or not they’re still employed by the company. Even a tangential link can make the company guilty by association. A particular case in point is Penny Sparrow vs Jawitz Properties.

You are what you post

It’s foolish to believe that you can delineate your personal and professional lives in the digital age. Social media profiles that are open to the public can be scrutinised on anything from your past employers to your friends and family.

Posting anything offensive can result in your virtual lynching, along with demands for your dismissal and calls to boycott any associated employer – even if there is no wrongdoing on their part. These sparks catch fire and spread fast, igniting campaigners in kindled support, until the company must act to defend itself.

For a business, this brings a new dimension to the cost of a bad hire, because, adding insult to injury, a company is likely to face reputational damage from alignment with a questionable post – plus the cost and effort of regaining trust.

Whether you’re on the job hunt or sourcing a new candidate, here are some tips:

For employees:

  • Your social media profile may be the first impression an employer gets. Assume that, when applying for any job, employers will review your online persona.
  • If you don’t want employers snooping through your social profiles, adjust your privacy settings and build a professional profile on LinkedIn instead/as well. Even then leaks happen, so keep it appropriate.
  • If you wouldn’t say it to your grandmother, it doesn’t belong on social media. Before you post anything, consider the potential consequences if it leaked.

For employers:

  • If a candidate’s profile is closed, respect their privacy. Don’t use dubious means to gain access, like fake friend requests or asking for their passwords.
  • South Africa’s Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI), enacted in 2013 but yet to commence, and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which enforced compliance from 25 May 2018, will restrict the extent to which candidates’ social media information can be used. Compliance in your business, wherever relevant, is an imperative.
  • Train your people on the reputational and legal risks involved with social media – that is, the risks to themselves and to the business.
  • Conduct a social media audit when someone leaves the company. Instruct them in writing to remove references to employment at your company, if no longer current.
  • Unintentional discrimination happens. Look for information about the person’s work ethic and experience, personality, communication skills, and potential legal issues. If you’re concerned that unrelated information might affect the hiring decision, outsource to a specialised recruitment agency.

Remember this:

► If you’re an employer: Skills can be taught; ethics, values, and cultural fit cannot.
► If you’re a candidate: Depending on how you present and conduct yourself online, you can be your own best friend or your own worst enemy. Strive for the former.

This article originally appeared on Boyden's website here


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