By Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Wall Street Journal
Many companies regularly look up job applicants online as part of the hiring process. A new study suggests they may also use what they find to discriminate.
The study, a Carnegie Mellon University experiment involving dummy résumés and social-media profiles, found that between 10% and a third of U.S. firms searched social networks for job applicants' information early in the hiring process. In those cases, candidates whose public Facebook profiles indicated they were Muslim were less likely to be called for interviews than Christian applicants.
The difference was particularly pronounced in parts of the country where more people identify themselves as conservative. In those places, Christian applicants got callbacks 17% of the time, compared with about 2% for Muslims.
"There is so much information we reveal about ourselves online, sometimes in ways we do not even realize," said Alessandro Acquisti, an information-technology and public-policy professor at Carnegie Mellon and one of the study's authors. Even if people don't explicitly discuss sensitive information online or post embarrassing photos, employers can be influenced by other clues, the researchers said.
Quotes from a religious text could indicate a person's beliefs, for example, while mentions of a baby registry might suggest a woman is pregnant or has children. ...
But the new research suggests social-media profiles can contribute to more fundamental discrimination. The researchers focused their experiment on categories like religion and sexuality, which some federal and local laws prohibit companies from using in hiring decisions. "By and large, employers avoid asking questions about these traits in interviews. But now technology makes it easier to find that information," Mr. Acquisti said.
Muslim applicants received 14% fewer callbacks nationwide, but because of the small number of employers offering interviews to any people at all, this difference wasn't statistically significant. Significant advantages for Christian candidates as compared with Muslims were clear when researchers looked at the 10 states—Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming—that were most strongly conservative based on 2012 election data.
Ibrahim Hooper, the national communications director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the findings didn't surprise him. "You never know what an employer is finding on Google or Facebook or any other site on the Internet that they can use to eliminate you from consideration," he said. (Read the full article)