Social intelligence has historically referred to one’s ability to interact with others socially in an intelligent way. Simply put, it is akin to emotional intelligence, and is most definitely an important aspect for job seekers.
The capacity to interact on the job in an appropriate social manner is critical to career success. The newer meaning of social intelligence is QUITE different.
Move over Big Brother – there is another type of social intelligence that has recently risen out of the social media explosion. This variety of ‘social intelligence’ is being provided by a research company seeking to capitalize on vast amounts of social media information available in the public domain that can be used to screen potential job applicants – think background check on steroids!
Have you participated in any forums or users groups related to a medical condition you have? Did you make your political views known anywhere publicly on the web? Are you on any free access dating websites? Do you mention your religious views on your Facebook page? If so, this information may be available to potential employers.
To conduct a social intelligence investigation, a corporation must ask a prospective candidate to sign off on the information they obtain from their research. On the one hand, this sort of background check can be quite helpful to potential companies who might unknowingly hire someone who is involved in criminal activities. On the other hand, it could lead to massive amounts of covert discrimination.
According to a recent article in the New York Times entitled Social Media History Becomes a New Job Hurdle, a young and growing company has automated the process of scouring the web for content related to social media posts. Companies can gain intelligence related to racism, drug involvement, sexual conduct, and interest in weaponry.
The FTC has determined that this is not in violation of laws in the US, but privacy advocates are concerned:
- While it may be disheartening for job seekers, and those who wish to advance their career, the wisest thing to do is to carefully disguise your identity when it comes to personal forum participation. Protect your personal brand.
- Avoid putting anything that can be considered incriminating or objectionable on the internet. Establish strict privacy settings on all of your personal social media sites.
- Do not let friends and family post photos or videos of you that would be objectionable.
If you have already put information out there that could impact your career, see if you can have it removed by the website administrators. If something comes up that is inappropriate, it could be someone else that posted it with a name identical to your own. In this case, you can let the company know that you are not responsible. However, if there is a photo of you, you will have to acknowledge your involvement.
I see this new practice as being fraught with problems for both companies and candidates. While obtaining good intelligence and conducting due diligence background checks may be vital to corporate security, there is a fine line between using this sort of information for good rather than for discrimination.
The potential for abuse is Orwellian, to say the least.
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