An Experiment in Hiring Discrimination Via Online Social Networks

Management Science 66(3):1005-1024 Mar 2020 https://doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.2018.3269

38 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2012 Last revised: 22 Jun 2022

See all articles by Alessandro Acquisti

Alessandro Acquisti

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management

Christina M. Fong

Carnegie Mellon University - Department of Social and Decision Sciences

Date Written: March 1, 2020

Abstract

We investigate whether personal information posted by job candidates on social media sites is sought and used by prospective employers. We create profiles for job candidates on popular social networks, manipulating information protected under U.S. laws, and submit job applications on their behalf to over 4,000 employers. We find evidence of employers searching online for the candidates. After comparing interview invitations for a Muslim versus a Christian candidate, and a gay versus a straight candidate, we find no difference in callback rates for the gay candidate compared to the straight candidate, but a 13% lower callback rate for the Muslim candidate compared to the Christian candidate. While the difference is not significant at the national level, it exhibits significant and robust heterogeneity in bias at the local level, compatible with existing theories of discrimination. In particular, employers in Republican areas exhibit significant bias both against the Muslim candidate, and in favor of the Christian candidate. This bias is significantly larger than the bias in Democratic areas. The results are robust to using state- and county-level data, to controlling for firm, job, and geographical characteristics, and to several model specifications. The results suggest that 1) the online disclosure of certain personal traits can influence the hiring decisions of U.S. firms and 2) the likelihood of hiring discrimination via online searches varies across employers. The findings also highlight the surprisingly lasting behavioral influence of traditional, offline networks in processes and scenarios where online interactions are becoming increasingly common.

Keywords: Privacy, Economics, Social Networking Sites, Labor Discrimination

JEL Classification: J7

Suggested Citation

Acquisti, Alessandro and Fong, Christina M., An Experiment in Hiring Discrimination Via Online Social Networks (March 1, 2020). Management Science 66(3):1005-1024 Mar 2020 https://doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.2018.3269, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2031979 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2031979

Alessandro Acquisti (Contact Author)

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States
412-268-9853 (Phone)
412-268-5339 (Fax)

Christina M. Fong

Carnegie Mellon University - Department of Social and Decision Sciences ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States
412-268-8168 (Phone)

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