South African companies are tracking what you post on Facebook – this is what they are looking for

February 17, 2020
Posted in Tech
February 17, 2020 Tumelo Moloi

It has become common practice for companies to check potential employees’ social media accounts before offering them a job.

Zanele Luvuno, managing director of consultancy firm Transcend Talent Management, said that these checks are especially common at a senior level when a company is looking to hire an executive.

In an interview with 702, Luvuno said that companies are specifically looking at:

  • An audit of all your major social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter etc);
  • An audit of the type of content you are writing/posting;
  • An audit of any ‘major themes’ that come apparent across your accounts;
  • An audit of the things that you are known for and any potential risks.

“We can segment the types of reports that we give to our clients in any way, depending on the piece of work we are doing.

“This includes doing things like trawling everything that has been posted online by your accounts and pointing out any anomalies.”

Luvuno noted that a potential employer may not pick up any irregularities, but could simply find that you are not the right pick for the company.

“We may be the kind of organisation that likes the status quo and we are going to say, no, he is going to come in here and be a disruptor, we don’t want him, he is not going to fit into our culture,” she said.

What employers are and are not allowed to use 

Where the information gleaned from an applicant’s social media profile, the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) will afford additional protection regarding the applicants’ privacy, said Tracy Robbins, an associate at Baker Mckenzie.

Whilst employers should tread lightly when screening job applicants, an employer is empowered to make hiring decisions, based on results from social media screening, that are linked to the inherent requirements of the job, Robbins said.

For example, where a job requires an employee to be politically neutral, and during a social media check of the applicant it becomes clear that the applicant has strong political affiliations, it would not necessarily constitute unfair discrimination not to offer the applicant the job, she said.

“In practice, it may be difficult for an unsuccessful applicant to prove that they did not get the job due to unfair discrimination,” Robbins said.

“However, the risk for employers is tangible and the repercussions of an unfavourable award can extend past a monetary blow and end up in an unpleasant media storm.

“Provided that employers snoop responsibly, social media checks may provide some useful intel on prospective job applicants and so we understand why employers are clicking the like button.”

Not only private companies

While social media screening is primarily used by the private sector, the government has also indicated that it will begin tracking posts.

In 2019, the Department of Public Service and Administration said that it would begin screening social media posts before hiring prospective employees.

This is to ensure that that government’s recruitment processes are enhanced with the use of other platforms beyond the traditional means of screening, it said at the time.

“In order for us to recruit individuals that meet the prescripts, we need to employ all tools and methodologies of screening including the use of internet and social media in particular,” said former minister for public service and administration, Ayanda Dlodlo.

“This circular does not seek to restrict the constitutional rights to privacy of any individual or group of people seeking employment in the Public Service, it also does not seek to suppress or muzzle any ideological or political views of people whatsoever – neither is it designed to disadvantage South Africans on the basis of party political affiliation.”

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