What Happens in [Online] Vegas...
By Kendall Ackerman
As social media use becomes increasingly common in this digital age, the use of cybervetting during employee selection processes is also becoming progressively popular. Many human resource management professionals today assess applicants’ social media accounts such as Facebook or Twitter to identify applicants who demonstrate admirable public images and “reflect the ‘right’ kind of private life and mainstream values.” While many employers believe that social media serves as a useful method for determining an applicant’s potential organizational fit with a company, there are many ethical issues still to be worked out in terms of the legality behind using social media for selection decisions.
Employers use cybervetting as a way to narrow down their applicant pool by eliminating candidates whose use of social media does not meet the organization’s standards of professionalism or professed values. In general, social media can provide insight into an individual’s personality, habits, and communication style with others. However, those who are against the use of cybervetting in selection decisions argue that social media has nothing to do with the requirements for performing well on the job, and thus it should not be considered during the selection process. Researchers with this view have been said to have a, “What happens in Vegas” mentality, believing that what happens outside of work should stay outside of work.
However, what happens when an employee decides to blur the lines between work and play on social media, especially when acting as a representative of the organization online? And further, what about when that employee happens to hold a leadership position in the organization and uses social media as a platform for sharing personal opinions, thus portraying the organization in a certain light?
Take a minute to think back to the recent presidential election and its outcome. 44% of US adults reported that they learned information about the 2016 election through social media websites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Throughout the campaign, voters referred to presidential candidates’ social media accounts to collect information about what the candidates believed and why. Old posts were dug up from the past and brought to the attention of everyone across the nation. While Hillary Clinton supporters viewed Trump’s past activity on social media as a negative sign for what was to come, Donald Trump supporters argued that he should not be judged by his past social media posts because they had nothing to do with how he would perform as the President of the United States.
Fast forward to present-day, and those who argued against President Trump’s social media use are likely saying, “I told you so.” Due to its instantaneous and impersonal nature, social media has allowed our President to share his immediate and uncensored thoughts with his 49.5 million Twitter followers with the click of a button. Many argue that President Trump has abused this power, as he often posts opinionated comments that represent the United States in an unfavorable light to other countries. As the President of the United States, Donald Trump is the ultimate leader, public figure, and representative of the giant organization. Everything he says on social media is publicized to an extreme extent, which is crucial for him to keep in mind as he represents the entire United States in all of his messages, good or bad.
So should President Trump’s Twitter account have served as a method of cybervetting him from the presidential candidate pool in 2016? Is cybervetting an appropriate method to narrow down an applicant pool for a leadership position? I am not at liberty to say for certain. In essence, it should come down to whether social media use is a key aspect related to the job at hand. However, it is important to recognize the very fine line between work and play on social media that can be easily blurred or even erased by organizational leaders online. It is a well-known fact that past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior. Perhaps then, a leader’s past behaviors on social media might, in fact, reflect their future social media behaviors – something that organizations should keep in mind when identifying high profile leaders to represent their companies.