Could Social Media Be Increasing Divisions In Society?

I’ve been troubled by something of late: a dark side of social media. Hear me out if you will…

Imagine for a minute that social media could be harming equality and reinforcing class divisions, undermining legislation and government policies whose aims have been to do the exact opposite. That’d be pretty shocking right?

Unfortunately I fear this may be exactly what is happening.

Could Social Media Be Increasing Divisions In Society?

Rewinding to the Recent Past

In recent years, great strides have been taken to try and create a level playing field for anyone wanting to pursue career opportunities. Discrimination in the jobs market on the basis of age, sex, race – all have been outlawed. Increasingly job applications were being submitted where this information was not disclosed and so couldn’t form part of the interviewing selection process.

Of course people’s connections and “the Old Boys’ network” still meant some were better placed to achieve career success than others. But I viewed social networking as the great leveller. If your upbringing and social standing meant you didn’t have the same connections as someone else, here was a medium you could invest your time in to dramatically close the gap.

Not so Fast

What’s come to concern me of late is the dramatic rise in the use of social platforms (eg. LinkedIn) for corporate recruiting purposes. Major corporations around the globe have been investing in internal recruiting teams to go out and proactively approach people they’d like to employ, with social media as the tools enabling this change. The use of recruitment agencies and headhunters has fallen sharply as a result – and some commentators are even suggesting that fewer and fewer vacancies are ever openly advertised in this new recruiting era. I’m certainly seeing this in the markets I’m connected to.

Two Reasons to be Concerned

There are two aspects to this that concern me:

The first aspect is of greatest concern – and that is the fact that in this new era, fewer and fewer candidates are going to be considered for top career openings. If you didn’t go to the right school, haven’t worked for the right companies since graduation, aren’t a perfect match for the job spec… well you’re out of luck, perhaps today more than ever before.

In the days when recruitment agencies accounted for a high proportion of all hires, I used to recommend that candidates should work with one if they were finding it hard to secure interviews (because they weren’t quite the right fit for the roles they sought). Often times, a recruitment consultant would meet the candidate and would advocate to the major corporate that they should interview them, irrespective of their shortcomings, based on the calibre of the individual they’d met and the potential they believed that candidate had. Recruitment consultants played a valuable (albeit unintentional) role in ensuring equality of opportunity.

Fast-forward to today and you have corporates who are seeking out candidates via social media and approaching them to be interviewed for roles that are never advertised. The decisions they are taking about who to interview are based purely on the strengths of people’s social profiles – that’s to say whether they attended the right schools, worked at target competitors and so on. Well to me this is hiring to a mould. If you fit the mould you’re in with a chance. If you don’t fit the mould you never even get to be considered as an applicant.

Social Mobility In Jeopardy

But wait! Increasing social mobility requires companies to be increasingly willing to hire outside of the mould. Opportunities should fall to those most capable of doing the job, rather than to those who went to the right schools. Yet the recruitment and advertising offerings of social media sites achieve the exact opposite. They enable corporates to only open their plum jobs up to a highly select group of target candidates. They facilitate jobs being filled without ever having been advertised at all.

Now as the economy turns around, to a degree this problem will recede. As companies find it harder to make the hires they need, the goalposts invariably get moved in a way that means a broader pool of candidates are considered for the openings. But the fact remains - irrespective of the economic climate, we have a jobs market now that deters social mobility more than if social media had never been invented.

But wait, there’s more – the second aspect of social media that concerns me…

Think now of the information that businesspeople are more or less compelled to make available to employers via social networking sites. If you consider it essential for your business standing to have a LinkedIn profile – as I think could be argued to be the case in many many sectors – then what information do you find yourself having to divulge to a prospective employer? Everything that legislation has sought to remove from the job application process – sex, race, age – is information we inadvertently share with prospective employers through our social profiles.

Given that many employers say they now turn to a candidate’s social profiles as one of the first things they do when reviewing their job application, it’s hard to imagine that this hasn’t set the equality movement back considerably. Instead of reviewing applicants’ details without any access to discriminatory information, they’re now doing so with all this information in front of them. Indeed, they could even have chosen who to approach about the job in the first place based on that information.

Concluding Remarks

You can imagine this has been a hard post for me to write. I created Social-Hire because I was excited by the possibilities social media offered for opening up the jobs market and allowing anyone to network their way to greater careers success. I still believe this aspect of social sites is a very important means of empowering people to fulfil their aspirations. But I’m also seeing the dark side of social media at work and felt a duty to open your eyes to what I believe is happening out there. I’d be very interested to hear your take on this. Please do share in the comments section below.

Related: Make your hiring campaigns more inclusive by combining candidate attraction via social with an online campaign

Image courtesy of Pinstamatic