Ethical Dilemma 7: Off your face on Facebook?
The case under evaluation relates to Facebook data access by a human resources manager to know more about a potential employee or candidate. The manager accessed the Facebook information of two job applicants to understand their eligibility for the position. The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the case study and elicit the main ethical arguments, the use of social media, and gender aspects before making a final decision.
The main ethical issues in the case
The case presents a human resources manager’s situation with two finalists for a job position. Because of the inability to decide between the two and time constraints, the manager uses social media to find out more about the applicants. The first applicant’s profile is readily available on social media, and the manager goes through it to learn more about them. The second applicant’s Facebook profile was only accessible to friends. The manager used a colleague’s Facebook account to view the applicant’s Facebook information.
It is essential to discuss the ethical issues surrounding this case to establish solutions for how managers should treat potential candidates in this regard. One ethical issue that arises from this case is the invasion of privacy (Crane et al., 2019). Invasion of privacy is defined as the intrusion upon an individual or gaining access to something private (Kumar & Nanda, 2019). It is considered unethical for employers to access personal data or information belonging to employees or potential workers. In this case, the candidates had provided the relevant data in their CVs and other submissions/ application letters to the human resource manager. The data they provided included all they deemed necessary for the employer to know about them. Only the data considered relevant to the position is provided for evaluation. It is viewed as an invasion of privacy if the manager accesses Facebook information because it is private. The situation is worse for the second applicant, whose Facebook profile was restricted to her friends only. By limiting access to only her friends, the applicant intended to keep her personal data private. Access to her images, posts, videos, and other Facebook content amounted to an invasion of privacy which is unethical (Akdeniz, 2019.
The other ethical issue that arises is based on the principle of informed consent (Crane et al., 2019). Informed consent is where an individual gives another permission to access their data or information. In this dilemma, there was no consent issued by the applicants for the human resource manager to access their Facebook accounts. Therefore, it is considered unethical for the manager to use a loophole and access such information. The issue of data confidentiality also emerges in this case. Confidentiality is related to the authorization required for persons to view, share, and use data belonging to others (Crane et al., 2019). Since there was no authorization by the owner, the manager violated the confidentiality of data in this case. Justice is considered an ethical issue whenever there is the unfair or inequitable treatment of persons in a work situation (Crane et al., 2019). In this case, the manager used the Facebook account of an intern to view the details of the second applicant. It was unfair to make the intern party to an ethical violation involving a breach of privacy.
The main ethical arguments for and against the use of social media sites for potential employers in this situation
One argument for the use of social media in this situation is that Facebook data is accessible to the public. Therefore, one can question why employers should not access such data while other people can. The first applicant’s Facebook data is accessible by the public based on the profile settings. One can argue that the employer also can access the data and judge the applicant based on such data. Arguably, the employer is also taking a risk by hiring the employee and is justified to view whatever information is available about the applicant provided no laws are broken (Crane et al., 2019). By setting the Facebook profile as ‘public’, one can argue that the employer has a right to view it as a member of the public. Based on this argument, employers are justified in using social media sites to vet candidates. Another idea is that employers’ use of such data is based on the concept of accountability. Accountability is a concept of ethics and political science. It is also synonymous with ethical concepts such as responsibility and openness (Kumar & Nanda, 2019). Based on these concepts, employees should remain accountable for what they post on social media, so employers should not be blamed for accessing it.
Some arguments against using social media by employers are based on concepts of information security and informed consent. When employers access social media data, they breach information security concepts unless an applicant has issued express permission for their data to be accessed. For instance, if an employee provides their Twitter Handle or Facebook Link on their CV, the employer would be justified in accessing such data. Another argument against this practice is based on the concept of the ethics of data mining (Crane et al., 2019). Employer access to social media data is an exercise in data mining considered unethical in business practice (McCourt, 2018).
Think of how you use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or other social media. Does this case influence the way you might use these in the future?
This case provides some insight into how employers use social media and how they might use it in future as technology evolves. Consequently, employers might access my accounts in the future while reviewing job applications. It influences how I might use social media in future because of the need to avoid damaging or controversial content that might jeopardize job opportunities. In the second applicant’s case, the employers noted content such as pictures of parties, alcohol, and drug use. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that any harmful content is not published to provide a negative outlook. It is also notable that the content put on social media lasts forever since ‘the internet never forgets.’ Therefore, because I currently use social media (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) to post all manner of content, I need to limit the content posted in the future.
Is there a gendered aspect to this story? Would your thinking change if the gender of any other characters were different?
There is a gendered aspect to the case, but it is a very minimal element where the case mentions the applicant taking her shirt off and the mention of the ‘AllCure girl.’ The mention of such elements in the case seems as if the words carry more meaning because the applicant was a woman. In today’s male-dominated society, such content posted online would likely cause more controversy if the subject was a woman. However, my opinion about the case would not change if the gender of the characters were different. The lesson of the matter is apparent regardless of gender; employers are likely to use social media more to get more information about applicants. This requires candidates to maintain professional social media profiles.
How would you finally decide as the human resource manager in this situation?
Even though the approach taken to access the information about the applicants is unethical, the decision should consider such insights for the benefit of the organization (McDonald, 2014). As the human resource manager, I would hire the first applicant because the information available shows she can benefit the organization more. The second applicant does not deserve the job because of the information revealed on social media. Their involvement might harm the organization when working on a significant product that might highly influence prospects.
This case presents an ethical dilemma where a human resource manager unethically accesses social media information to gauge the suitability of two female applicants. The case raises ethical issues of invasion of privacy, confidentiality, and justice. Analyzing the case also shows that there are logical arguments for the manager using such information and against the use of such information. There is a slightly gendered aspect to the case, but it doesn’t change my thinking. Finally, as the manager, I would hire the first applicant to protect the interests of the firm.
Akdeniz, C. (2019). Business Ethics. Can Akdeniz.
Crane, A., Matten, D., Glozer, S., & Spence, L. (2019). Business ethics: Managing corporate citizenship and sustainability in the age of globalization. Oxford University Press, USA.
Kumar, & Nanda. (2019). Social Media to Social Media Analytics: Ethical Challenges. International Journal of Technoethics, 10(2), 57-70.
McCourt, A. (2018). Social Media Mining: The Effects of Big Data In the Age of Social Media. https://law.yale.edu/mfia/case-disclosed/social-media-mining-effects-big-data-age-social-media
McDonald, G. (2014). Business ethics: A contemporary approach. Cambridge University Press.