Monday, 17 June 2019

Boundary crossing

Earlier this year I read an article on FastCompany about social media gaffes which cost people the job they were currently applying for. The excuses to not hire were: overly argumentative on political views on private Facebook (FB) page; a death as a missed appointment excuse busted on FB; a distasteful symbol worn in a FB profile photo; a person's Twitter account linked to the potential employee with distasteful material; a sports fanatic swearing on FB; holding views on FB contrary to company views; potentially misogynist doodles posted on Tumblr; and posting FB plans of a summer celebration after accepting an internship (Ziv, 13 February 2019).

While I can understand the employer's point of view in wanting to mitigate hiring risk in each of the eight situations listed in the article, what the article was silent on was the employees' right to privacy. Any or all of the issues mentioned above may have been simply showing off, a costume party, a one-off, immaturity, or simply prejudice on the part of the employer.

This online investigation done by the recruiters or employers during recruitment is known as 'cybervetting'. Cybervetting happens “when information seekers (employers) gather information about targets (workers) from informal, non-institutional, online sources to inform personnel selection decisions” (Berkelaar, 2014, p. 480). 

Ziv's article was really about cybervetting. What Ziv's article didn't talk about was that this is potentially an illegal invasion of privacy. Permission for the searches described in Ziv’s article are unlikely to have been given by the candidate (13 February 2019). In research that a colleague and I did a couple of years ago (Fijn & Young, 2016), we found employer justification for cybervetting range from mitigating hiring risk, to that the information is freely - publicly - available.

In New Zealand the Privacy Act does not allow anyone to collect information on you for any purposes other than those you have signed up to. The Privacy Act was established in order to protect citizen's rights to keep their private life private. However, the act is silent on what this means in the internet age. While Kiwis can refuse Ministry of Justice vetting, for example, it probably won't prevent a recruiter looking up news articles to find out whether we have been in court or not. 

In our research, we found that 14% of employers would ask 'friends' of a candidate to show them the candidate's professional or social media pages. We found two things staggering: firstly that companies did it, and secondly that 14% of companies actually admitted that they did it. What was also interesting was that recruiters said they did not do this, and that it was unethical. Our findings were that cybervetting is not really considered to be ethical behaviour by either employees or employers: there is an element of the underhand about it. While both employees and employers accepted that it happened, neither seemed very easy about the fact that it was done (Fijn & Young, 2016, 2018).

In theory, good pre-employment screening should ensure that the candidate has the skills for the job. If pre-employment screening doesn't supply that information, then the employment process itself needs work. 

To build trust in the employment relationship, both sides need to be 'honest' while marketing themselves (and right there is the elephant in the room!). During that discovery process of finding out whether a candidate can do the job or not, what business is it of the employer whether they want to be a Morris dancer in their spare time, or grow silk worms? To me this smacks of the employer requiring everyone to be the 'same', squeaky-clean, and to 'own' employee performance effectively 24/7. It appears to illustrate a growing inequality in the employee/employer relationship, showing more power on the side of the employer. 

Cybervetting appears to blur the boundaries between what is public and what is private. But it is internet access to our publicly-lived private lives which is facilitating the ability to cybervet.

We need to talk about the issue of cybervetting, privacy and trust openly and come to a place where everyone is protected: where there is a balance between power, risk and reward.



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