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Study Highlights Pitfalls of 'Cybervetting' Job Candidates

magnifying glass on person and social media posts, illustration

A recent study of how human resources professionals review online information and social media profiles of job candidates highlights the ways in which online vetting or "cybervetting" can introduce bias and moral judgment into the hiring process.

Online vetting of candidates' social media profiles often involves an assessment of a person's moral character, says Steve McDonald, an author of the study and a professor of sociology at North Carolina State University. "It was also clear that people were rarely looking for information related to job tasks," McDonald says. "And the things they did look for reflected their explicit or implicit biases."

For example, study participants referenced looking for things like posts about hiking and family photos of Christmas. But most people who hike are white, and most people who post Christmas photos are Christians.

Co-author Amanda Damarin, an associate professor of sociology at Georgia State University, said the study shows a disconnect between the way HR views behavior when the behavior is presented online. "For example, one participant noted that his organization had no problem with employees drinking alcohol, but did not want to see any photos of alcohol in an employee's social media feed," Damarin says.

"One the one hand, HR professionals view social media as being an 'authentic' version of who people really are; but those same HR professionals are also demanding that people carefully curate how they present themselves on social media," Damarin says.

The researchers describe their work in "The Hunt for Red Flags: Cybervetting as Morally Performative Practice," published in the journal Socio-Economic Review.

From North Carolina State University
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