Could Your Facebook Likes Cost You a Job Offer?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Mar 6, 2015

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The New York Times recently reported that researchers have come up with a way to predict your personality based on what you “like” on Facebook.

Thumbs down Keyboard KeyThe paper, by researchers at Cambridge University and Stanford University, is entitled “Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans” and was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Using a sample of more than 86,000 volunteers who completed 100-question personality questionnaires, the researchers found that computer predictions based on Facebook likes were more accurate than those made by the participants’ Facebook friends.

Predictions based on the Facebook likes were especially accurate when predicting things like substance use (alcohol, tobacco, and drugs), political attitudes, fields of study, and physical health.

This study also looked at personal traits like:

  • openness
  • conscientiousness
  • extroversion
  • agreeableness
  • neuroticism

The creators of the study noted that “automated, accurate, and cheap personality assessment tools” could affect society in a number of ways:

  • marketers could tailor messages to social media users’ personalities
  • products and services could adjust to users’ characters and changing moods
  • scientists could study populations without making people fill out questionnaires
  • recruiters could match candidates with jobs based on their personalities

Online Profiling and the Job Market

One of the co-authors of the study suggested that the research had “the potential to completely change how we see the job market.” Each job-seeker could get a computer-generated personality profile, and then employers could search for people with the personalities and skills that match the jobs.

Is that a good thing? Or is it a problem?

An article in The Atlantic notes that corporations are already using “big data” to analyze their workers.

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Moneyball for All?

Perhaps the best known example of this is how the Oakland A’s used data analytics to assess the potential and monetary value of baseball players, leading to a 103-game winning streak, as portrayed in the book and movie Moneyball.

Don Peck, the author of the Atlantic article, thinks using data to analyze people could lead to negative results:

that we will cede one of the most subtle and human of skills, the evaluation of the gifts and promise of other people, to machines; that the models will get it wrong; that some people will never get a shot in the new workforce.

Danielle Citron, a University of Maryland law school professor who focuses on Internet law and privacy, told the Times that screening of social media personality profiles could be used to weed out people who were absent-minded or had short attention spans.

Of course, people can adjust their Facebook settings to make it harder for employers to gather data about them. But if social media analytics begin to take the place of other types of personality tests used by employers, jobseekers may feel pressured to share their profiles — or delete them.

According to some surveys, three quarters of recruiters already check out applicants on the Internet, and about half of employers do likewise. Potential employees are already being rejected for public posts that show they’re into heavy drinking, drug use, violent imagery, and sexually offensive materials.

Some employers even ask job applicants to provide their social media passwords and login information so they can see everything that’s been posted. This is now against the law in some states.

If you feel that your online privacy has been violated, you may want to consider consulting a lawyer who specializes in privacy issues.

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