Information revealed on social media sites can lead to hiring discrimination, according to research from Carnegie Mellon University.
“Our experiment focused on a novel tension: The tension between the law — which, in the United States, protects various types of information, making it risky for certain personal questions to be asked during interviews — and new information technologies, such as online social networks — which (often) make that same information available to strangers, including interviewers and employers,” said Alessandro Acquisti, associate professor of information technology and public policy.
While he and Christina Fong, senior research scientist at CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, found that relatively few employers check up on job candidates online, what they do uncover can influence how they make a hire.
In sending applications to 4,000 real job openings, the researchers compared the interview opportunities of a Christian candidate vs. a Muslim candidate, and the number of interview opportunities a gay candidate received relative to a straight candidate. They also collected data on locations and types of companies advertising the jobs.
“Our survey and field experiments show statistically significant evidence of hiring bias originating from information candidates shared on their online profiles,” Fong said. “Both by itself and controlling for a host of demographic and firm variables, our Muslim candidate was less likely to receive an interview invitation compared to our Christian candidate in more politically conservative states and counties.”
They found less bias based on sexual orientation.
Because the social and political sentiment between areas couldn’t be randomly assigned, the researchers warned the results should be interpreted as correlational, not causal.
Kate Crawford, principal researcher at Microsoft Research, has warned about the potential of hiring discrimination based on the aggregation of publicly available data. She says health information – through health search terms, products researched or bought online — is especially vulnerable to the kinds of subtle discrimination that can result from Big Data analysis. She and a colleague have proposed a framework of “due process” to help consumers understand their legal rights in determining what information about them is collected and how it is used.