The Problem with Cybervetting

By Emily Loberto

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The line between our online and offline lives has become increasingly blurred in today's digital age. The introduction of online spaces such as social media platforms and personal blogs has resulted in a significant amount of our activities occurring digitally, where they are publicly available, and many companies have taken notice. With our personal lives just a click away, the ease of finding a person online has given rise to cybervetting, a recruiting practice that is quickly developing into a contentious issue in the HR industry.   

What is Cybervetting?  

Cybervetting occurs when an employer examines their candidates' online presence to determine if they will be a good fit for a role. This process can include anything from glancing at social media accounts to reading personal blogs and forum posts. Estimates on the number of companies using cybervetting range everywhere from 43% to 70%, and as our online footprint grows, it is likely that adoption of this practice will increase along with it.  

Cybervetting is done under the guise of gaining insights into an individual’s character and behavior. However, aside from ensuring that a candidate is not overtly discriminatory towards specific groups, very little information gained through these practices is relevant to the hiring process. In fact, the harm caused by cybervetting often far outweighs the benefits. 

Understanding the Risks 

One of the most significant risks of cybervetting is that it can inadvertently introduce or amplify biases in recruiting processes. By examining an individual's online presence, recruiters might form opinions based on race, gender, religion, or personal beliefs, potentially sidelining qualified candidates based on irrelevant information. 

On top of unfairly eliminating candidates and reducing company diversity, this also opens the door to significant legal consequences. Most countries and states have laws in place protecting certain groups from discrimination. If a company’s cybervetting processes favor one group over another, the employer could be liable for intentional or unintentional discrimination.  

Cybervetting procedures have also come under scrutiny for violating the privacy and trust of candidates. As the value placed on work-life balance becomes more pronounced, so does the importance of separating personal and work lives. However, cybervetting infringes on candidates' private lives by digging through posts that they likely did not intend to be seen by a professional audience. This approach can lead to a breach of trust and raises ethical questions about the boundaries employers should have when researching candidates. 

A Better Way 

Of course, most companies do not implement cybervetting to discriminate against candidates and dig through their personal lives. Oftentimes, recruiters view it as a harmless way to get to know their candidates and see if they are a good fit before inviting them for an interview. However, this can lead to biases and discrimination even when not intended.   

For example, in one study, many recruiters referenced looking for photos of hiking trips while vetting candidates. While this may seem harmless enough on the surface, it can lead to the discrimination of older or disabled candidates who may find walking long distances more difficult. The recruiters tried to find common ground between themselves and their candidates, but this innocent intention could quickly translate into discrimination. 

Cybervetting may work when deciding who you’ll go on your next date with, but it isn’t the answer when it comes to getting to know your candidates. It opens the door to far too many risks in return for very little relevant information. Rather than deducing who would be a good fit based on curated social media profiles, employers should focus on what skills their candidates bring to the table and how those skills can be developed to deliver lasting value to the organization. 

Get to Know Your Candidates with Plum  

Rapid technological development has done more than move our lives online; it has also wholly reshaped the world of work. Getting to know candidates through the lens of what they have done in the past is becoming less relevant as the shelf life of many skills diminishes. Instead, employers must hone in on the skills and qualifications that will stand the test of time and allow employees to flourish in the long term.   

Plum helps to quantify these skills by giving employers an in-depth picture of the innate abilities of their candidates and how they match to roles across the organization. With one 25-minute assessment, Plum enables organizations to get to know their candidates in a far more accurate, inclusive, and scalable way than cybervetting. Book a chat with one of our experts to learn more.