Social Media and Our Biases

I’m in jury duty, today. Yes, that wonderful civic duty all U.S. citizens over the age of 18 must do. I’m in the Cook County court to earn my $15+ for my service. It’s a chance to witness our government in action and be a part of a system that makes this country what it is. The 6th Amendment gives the accused the right to a speedy trial by an impartial jury of the state. Lester Holt reminded me of this as he rocked the orientation video. Of course, this got me thinking about HR and our biases. How impartial are we as a people. Specifically, how impartial are we as HR professionals?

Unless you’ve been under a rock or on vacation, you have seen a lot of hatred and division in the news. Protests filled with hatred and violence. Many of these protests have been broadcast on every major news outlet and every Tom, Dick, and Susie’s social media feeds. People are losing their jobs due to their participations in these protests. Many rightfully so. Social media justice is at its peak.

Almost 5 years ago, I wrote my first post for the SHRM blog. I just re-read it and I’m wondering if my thoughts have changed since then. 5 years ago, there was no “fake news.” The internet was the truth and we could rely on everything we read. I’m kidding. But it was only a short time ago that we were judging people’s online presence on their extracurricular activities like partying and drinking. Now we are judging based on political affiliations and social causes. We make assumptions based on what we see.

Where do we draw the line as recruiters and HR pros? I’m not making this a post about one side or the other. Well, if you’re going to wield a tiki torch at a white supremacist rally and land on the front page of the Washington Post, I’m going to have some questions for you, but that’s just me. I’m wondering how much of our own personal moral compass gets to play judge and jury in the hiring process.

As HR professionals, we can carry a lot of influence of who gets in the door. We screen hundreds, if not thousands, of resumes per month, depending on which SuperRecruiter you ask. We all have our own “secret sauce” on how to sniff out the top candidates from the piles of applications. We scan profiles, live and die by Google, and even advocate for Artificial Intelligence to prevent our biases. But we know this is impossible. We all have our unconscious bias and this comes into play in all of our decisions.

So how far do we take it? We are supposed to be the “impartial jurors” of our organizations. And yet we are some of the most judging in the business. We scan profiles and pass judgement. We look at the “likes”‘of a candidate’s social media profiles to make assumptions. Want to see what they did all summer? That Instagram account can weave a story in our minds. And this is a dangerous hole to go down.

I just thought about my past week’s social activity while I was on vacation. If you took a look at them, what story could you tell? My Twitter activity was pretty bland, with the exception of some shameless plugs for past blog posts, some nerdy running updates, and a “visit” to Hempfest. Judging from my tweet alone, one could assume I spent the day indulging in all things hemp. If you didn’t cross-reference my Instagram story, you wouldn’t have known that I was in Seattle with my family. I tweeted a picture of Hempfest at 8am while I was in the middle of a 6 mile run. The festival was not active and setup was under way. My humor may not have translated to many. It rarely does. What if your organization drug tested and you assumed I wouldn’t pass?

What assumptions do you make when you view someone’s social media activity? As a conservative, do you give pause to the “I’m With Her” profile picture? How about those blue recruiters. Does that “Trump/Pence 2016” phrase in one’s profile cause you to put that resume in the pass file? How much information is too much information? How many clicks do you go?

We all have biases. My HR friends are the most politically and socially passionate individuals I know, on both sides of the aisle, and they are not shy about sharing it publicly. And while I love them for that passion, I also respect them for being able to make an impartial decision and do some good old fashioned interviewing and conversation to make sure they keep the biases in check.

It’s tough to do. I’m guilty, especially if someone shows up in a Tom Brady jersey. This Colts fan makes some strong assumptions about that candidate’s judgement. But I must look past that Patriots jersey and dig into the person’s skills and abilities to do the job.

Use all the tools available and legally accessible to make a sound decision. And make sure you are using all of the tools and not making assumptions off of one source. Unless you come across a tiki-torch baring, insensitive bigot spewing hate on their Twitter feed. Then you can think twice.


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