3rd March 2023
This question is being asked with increasingly frequency – just last week a poster on Mumsnet asked exactly this question. The poster felt that it was going ‘too far’ to ask for social media user names, although they were happy to be checked out online. So far there have been 79 replies to the question, all of which express strong opinions. Posters include applicants, those working in HR (particularly in Education) and others who have a view. It’s a complicated subject and involves many different aspects, so we thought if might be useful to cover some of these off:
Is it legal to ask for social media usernames?
Yes, but you don’t have to give them. But that might affect how likely you are to get the job. HR professionals have to balance the law – for example not using ‘protected characteristics’ to discriminate against anyone – with the practicalities of recruiting and retaining staff and there’s a grey area between the law and what’s ethically acceptable. We at SP Index do not ask our customers to provide social media usernames for the applicants they’re screening because we, like many of the Mumsnet posters, think that’s intrusive and ethically unsound. We believe in building trust with the applicant from the outset, not antagonising them by asking for what might be deemed overly intrusive personal information.
Some say that it’s a means of avoiding false positives or improving accuracy, but it radically dilutes the check and it could open up legal challenges further along the process. It’s possible to carry out an ethical, unbiased, compliant social media check without usernames. We should know, we do it every day.
How do you know the recruitment process isn’t biased?
If your prospective employer is doing their online checks in house – googling people and looking them up on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook – then it’s hard to eliminate personal bias, just as it is in an interview situation. If the interviewer doesn’t like what you stand for, or even how you talk, that can be the end of your prospects. The real answer to this question is easy – they should get someone else to do it. A third party should follow a defined process, using highly skilled staff, to ensure that correct procedure is followed, content is contextualised and consistent results achieved. There’s only one way to do this – using people rather than just ‘AI’ to do the research.
What if all your socials are set to private?
Firstly, you would be in the minority because most people use social media for the social aspect. It’s unusual to draw a complete blank on a social media check, but if this is the case, then you would sail through the check with a clean bill of health. If your social media screening partner can’t find anything, then nobody else will be able to either. And that’s the point.
Lots to think about. And if you’re a recruiter or an employer, do your social media checks as part of your shortlisting process, but make sure they’re done professionally. Who does your social media checks? If it’s not SP Index, you might not be getting what you think you are.