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Too much information? The risks of recruiting using social media profiles

When it comes to recruitment, social media sites can provide employers with a wealth of information about prospective candidates. About 27 per cent of employers view social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn to get a better taste of a candidate's character beyond their CV and application form. But is it fair for employers to do this and what are the risks?

Recruiters need to be careful to respect an applicant's privacy. Reviewing profiles and sites that have been made public may be an easy way of getting information, but employers should be wary of encroaching too far into the private lives of candidates. The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) recommends that employers only seek personal information relevant to the job decision being made.

Information about a candidate's ethnicity, religion, age, marital status and sexual orientation - often publicly available on social media profiles - is protected under the Equality Act. Digging up sensitive 'protected' information that is not usually sought during the application process could leave employers open to discrimination claims. Rejected applicants could maintain that the real reason they didn't get the job was because of knowledge of the protected characteristic.

One survey found that more than 30 per cent of respondents would be very angry or outraged and would consider taking further action if they had been declined an interview or job based on a potential employer viewing their social media profile.

On the other side of the discrimination coin, research suggests that vetting through social media may also encourage 'recruitment bias' according to age, gender or ethnicity. Some recruiters said they drew inferences about candidates from Facebook profile pictures.

There's also the risk of excluding or disadvantaging applicants who have no social media profiles or who aren't connected to the internet at all. At the beginning of 2012, the Office for National Statistics reported that 16.1% of the UK adult population (8.1 million adults) had never used the internet.

Screening applicants through social media may be a quick means for employers to gather information, saving time and money and cutting bureaucracy. But this has to be weighed carefully against privacy and discrimination issues that can pose dangers.

Acas provides advice on Social media - recruitment and performance management and has published the Recruitment advisory booklet. Acas also runs Recruitment and induction training courses.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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