Employee social media behaviour has a commercial impact too

More than just immoral: Questionable social media behaviour by employees has a commercial impact too. Here’s how to root this out before you hire. 

More people seem to be posting before they think and causing untold reputational and economic harm for themselves and their employers, says Mettus, owner of background screening specialist, Managed Integrity Evaluation Proprietary Limited (MIE).

“This is why there is growing demand for screening online behaviour that may fall foul of the hate crimes laws, or which displays traits that do not fit in with a company’s values.” says Jennifer Barkhuizen from Mettus.

A recent study by one of MIE’s partner companies analysed social media risk score data from 9,708 data subjects within the mining industry, to highlight the impact of online behaviour on the workplace.

The data highlighted the prevalence of information leaks and other dangerous online behaviour. Of the 2,500 mine staff, it was found that 91.53% have an active social media presence, and as many as 23.11% were found to have disclosed or leaked sensitive mine site information. This included confidential operating procedures and even information relating to mine security and metadata with co-ordinates to locations. Further uncovered were posts defaming the employers, and even more disturbing, instances of sexual imagery and xenophobic content.

Another survey conducted in the e-hailing industry was equally concerning. It showed that drivers with a risk score of 27.5% and greater, complete less trips compared to drivers who demonstrate a social and digital media risk score of less than 27.5%. Apart from the loss of earnings this causes, there are clearly inherent dangers or real threats to society posed by the content analysed by the higher risk groups, yet these are people that are trusted to safely get passengers to their destinations.

“A large percentage of the negative content identified in these studies would fall under the category of hate speech as defined in South Africa and could result in legal action. Sexism was found to be most prevalent for negative content, followed by homophobia and sexually explicit images,” says Barkhuizen.

With the publication of SA’s hate speech bill – which seeks to criminalise many forms of deviant behaviour like sexism and racism – Barkhuizen says a major risk for employers is when an employee commits hate speech or other forms of discrimination.

SA’s Hate Crimes Bill gives effect to South Africa's obligations in terms of the Constitution and international human rights instruments concerning racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, in accordance with international law obligations.

The availability of countless online channels and publicly available information about employers means that prospective employees can similarly vet employers before committing to working for them. According to Glassdoor research, 79% of job seekers are likely to use social media in their job search to get a handle on what the company stands for.

Prospective employees can use up to 20 easily available online resources to check up on their prospective employer, with most looking for a company that is diverse, trustworthy and treats their staff with respect and provides a clear career path. Now both employers and employees can screen each other and harness the available data to ensure that their values align before working together.

“An ability to weed out those who display concerning and criminal online behaviour is becoming more and more important,” says Barkhuizen. “If someone is hired and they commit these acts or even if they are hired and it later comes out, they committed this type of discrimination, the employer will face a severe backlash, and often extreme damage to their brand.”

It is clear that employers need to be ever more mindful of the risks of illicit online behaviour. It is not only about protecting their reputation, but can have a commercial impact too. Ethics must always dictate that this is done within the outline of what is allowed by the law, like the new privacy legislation, but the benefits for those who analyse, understand and act on this data will be immense.
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