Using social media to screen job candidates leads to discrimination against Muslims

Unasked questions are now answered online.
Unasked questions are now answered online.
Image: Reuters/Lucas Jackson
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It turns out your social network may be working against you in your job search, but it’s not those Friday night photos that should concern you. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that information applicants share online can lead to hiring discrimination, particularly for Muslim candidates.

“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,” said Christina Fong, one of the study’s lead researchers.

Researchers Fong and Alessandro Acquisti submitted 4,000 job applications then tracked employers to find out how many searched for a job candidate online. The study analyzed the number of interview offers a Christian candidate received versus a Muslim candidate, as well as a gay candidate relative to a straight one, then cross-referenced that information with the US states and counties where the companies were based.

While the overall number of employers searching for applicants online is small—the study found approximately 10% of companies searched for an applicant—the results showed statistically significant evidence of hiring bias based on a job seeker’s online profile, particularly when it came to Muslim job seekers in more conservative areas of the US. Comparatively, the study found no difference between the gay and straight candidates when it came to interview offers.

The study addressed a novel tension, between what US law allows and what we publicly reveal about ourselves. “The United States protects various types of information, making it risky for certain personal questions to be asked during interviews,” concluded Acquisti, but that same information is often online and available to strangers, including interviewers and employers.

Claims of discrimination against Muslim workers spiked after 9/11, both in the US and globally, and over a decade later the effects still linger. In France, a Christian citizen is two-and-a-half times more likely to get called for an interview than an equally qualified Muslim candidate, and discrimination lawsuits have been filed—and won—against prominent companies, including the recent ruling against Abercrombie and Fitch.