Washington: Sharing personal information on social media by job seekers may lead to hiring discrimination, a new US study claims.

A large-scale field experiment conducted by Carnegie Mellon University researchers tested the impact that information posted on a popular social networking site by job candidates can have on employers’ hiring behaviour.

While various surveys have suggested that employers have been using the Web to screen prospective job candidates, there have been no controlled experiments measuring the frequency of firms’ usage of online profiles in hiring decisions and how profile information actually affects those decisions.

Researchers estimated that a minority of US employers regularly searches for candidates online.

“While it appears that a relatively small portion of US employers regularly searches for candidates online, we found robust evidence of discrimination among certain types of employers,” Christina Fong, senior research scientist at CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said.

Fong and Alessandro Acquisti, associate professor of information technology and public policy at CMU’s H John Heinz III College, used data revealed online by actual members of popular social networking and job-seeking sites to design job candidate resumes and online profiles for their experiments.

They experimentally manipulated personal traits the candidates revealed online regarding religion and sexual orientation, while holding signs of professionalism and work ethic constant.

The researchers first used a survey experiment involving more than 1,000 online participants to capture reactions to the candidates’ resumes and online profiles, and to test whether or not the candidates’ profiles appeared realistic.

Researchers submitted applications on behalf of the candidates to real job openings at more than 4,000 US employers.

“Our survey and field experiments show statistically significant evidence of hiring bias originating from information candidates shared on their online profiles,” Fong said.

The findings suggest that, while hiring discrimination via Internet searches and social media does not seem widespread, the impact of revealing certain traits online can have a significant effect on the behaviour of employers who look online for candidates’ personal information.

“Employers’ use of online social networking sites to research job candidates raises a variety of notable implications, since a vast number of job candidates reveal personal information on these sites that US employers can’t ask in an interview or infer from a resume,” Acquisti said.

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