Is that legal? Ethical? Hiring Using Social Media and Web Search Results

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Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan via Flickr
Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

They say that you don’t get a second chance at a first impression, and now with social media and Google searches, increasingly, those first impressions are being made online.

While this new way of connecting has created new opportunities for dating and networking, industry experts are concerned for how our digital world is changing the hiring process.

“I shouldn’t meet you for the first time through Google,” says Kyle Tettman, one of the speakers at a session discussing the ethics and laws surrounding hiring using social media and web searches, held at Ryerson University last Wednesday.

Tettman, the district manager at a Toronto advertising agency, explained that social media has not only changed how brands get promoted, but has also changed how people promote themselves. Creating a professional presence online has become an intrinsic part of job seeking, Tettman says that online personas should not necessarily determine who gets the job.

“Having that undefended pre-pre-screen [on the internet] is something that shouldn’t be happening and it’s not something that’s part of our workflow as a company,” he says.


According to the director of legal services for the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, judging job candidates based on their online profiles treads a fine ethical and sometimes, legal line.

In his presentation to the assembled staff and students, David Goodis described the flaws of using social media as a method of checking the background of job candidates, such as gathering information that is not up-to-date or relevant to the job or accessing information about others in the background check process. Goodis explains that according to privacy laws in Canada, private employers may only collect data that is considered “reasonable” and also require the consent of the candidate to do so. Public employers, on the other hand, can only gather data if it’s necessary to a lawfully authorized activity. While any company can access information that is in the public domain, the IPC condemns the use of social media background checks that are performed without the consent of the applicant during hiring practices.

Goodis defined “informational privacy” as “the right to control what happens to your information about you,” something that he emphasizes is a fundamental value in modern democracy. In this way, it really is up to each individual to protect their public online identity.

To do so, Tettman advises job applicants to be mindful of their online data, adjust their privacy settings and to be aware of what you are associating yourself with online. “Control what you can, not what you can’t,” he says.

How is social media changing how we connect with employers? Should your online persona play a role in job seeking? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @rdigitalife.


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