PhotoFacebook, Twitter, and Instagram can put the entire world at consumers’ fingertips with just a few taps. However, it’s easy to forget the significant impacts social media can have on other aspects of day-to-day life.

A new study tackled the way social media could lead to discriminatory hiring practices.

Researchers found that some employers use job applicants’ country or city of origin -- information that was only available on their Facebook profiles -- as an indicator of whether or not to call them back or offer them positions. Though the study was based in France, the results speak volumes for any job market.

Design choices matter

The researchers sent out over 800 job applications from two fake applicants -- one of whom had local origins, while the other had foreign roots. While both applicants sent in resumes and cover letters that didn’t include their hometowns, their Facebook pages revealed their countries of origin to employers.

At the start of the experiment, the researchers found a nearly 42 percent difference in the applicants who received callbacks. The foreign applicant proved to be at a significant disadvantage when it came to being contacted back, compared with the domestic applicant.

However, in the midst of the experiment, the researchers noted a massive change in the layout of Facebook. Once Facebook implemented profile tabs, users’ personal information, like country of origin and languages spoken, were no longer available on the homepage. Instead, the changes required users to click more in-depth into others’ profiles to find that information.

Following the change, when job recruiters could no longer tell with one click what country the applicant hailed from, the researchers noticed similar callback rates between their two fake applicants. This finding was perhaps the most important in the study, as it shows the layout of social media was a major factor behind the discriminatory actions.

The researchers are calling on social media companies to be aware of these findings and keep them in mind when designing future updates or page layouts, as they could have life-changing implications.

“This study illustrates that design choices made by online platforms can dramatically affect a decision like calling back, or not, an applicant for a job interview,” said co-author Dr. Matthieu Manant. “Internet companies should integrate this fact into their design thinking.”


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