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The Discrimination Risk of Using Social Media in Hiring At many organizations, the people who…

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The Discrimination Risk of Using Social Media in Hiring

At many organizations, the people who make hiring decisions conduct an online search of social media to learn more about candidates. The objective is to gain greater insight into people’s character and spot red flags that a person might behave unprofessionally. However, some recent research at Carnegie Mellon University suggests that screening candidates with social media contributes to discriminatory hiring decisions.
The study was an experiment in which the researchers created fictional résumés and social-media profiles and sent the résumés to U.S. businesses that had advertised job openings. All the résumés listed the same qualifications under different names, but the social media hinted that applicants were either Christian or Muslim or that they were either gay or straight. The companies were more likely to call the applicants with the Christian sounding profiles than the ones who seemed to be Muslim. Broken down geographically, the difference was statistically significant in some states. The researchers did not find a difference in response rates related to sexual orientation.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has recognized concerns about whether use of social media promotes discriminatory employment decisions. It recently held a meeting to gather information about the issue. Panelists described the need for caution—that employers must be sure the information they gather is related to job qualifications. They also suggested that employers consider using a third-party company to conduct background checks on social media. That agency would report only the job related information obtained from the background check and omit protected information, such as an employee’s religion, health, and pregnancy status.


1. Explain how the Carnegie Mellon study is an example of disparate impact.

2. For the employee characteristics protected by EEO laws, which could you avoid revealing on a social-media career site such as LinkedIn? Which would be difficult or impossible to avoid disclosing?

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