Nov 2 • 4 min read

New research from Temple University faculty member Jason Thatcher shows how political posts on social media profiles can impact hiring decisions

PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 2, 2020 — Social media is a haven for politically-charged content. Users routinely share their thoughts on candidates, policies and all sorts of polarizing topics.

For jobseekers, this might not be a smart idea. Or, depending on the job, it could be.

New research from Jason Thatcher of Temple University’s Fox School of Business outlines how social media activity, specifically related to politics, can affect an applicant both positively and negatively. According to the study, hiring managers are often influenced by job-irrelevant political content when it comes to assessing job applicants, and that can guide their decision making.

“This study started because we were working with a company, and they noted that they were basically already doing this,” says Thatcher, the Milton F. Stauffer Professor of Management Information Systems at the Fox School. “Everybody was out looking at social media profiles, and they were doing it in a way they weren’t totally comfortable with. With hiring, there are questions you can and cannot ask, and you’re supposed to be restricted to job-relevant information. It’s actually illegal in some states for employers to make decisions based on an employee’s or applicant’s politics. So our study was designed to see if this sort of thing really happens.”

Recently accepted for publication in MIS Quarterly, “Social Media and Selection: Political Issue Similarity, Liking, and The Moderating Effect Of Social Media Platform” details how a person’s digital footprint affects the hiring process. The piece was co-authored by Julie Wade and Michael Dinger, both of the Johnson College of Business and Economics at the University of South Carolina Upstate, as well as Philip Roth of the Clemson University College of Business.

As part of the study, Thatcher and his colleagues looked at three key polarizing topics: the legalization of marijuana, gun control and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). They used these topics to create posts and content for 12 fictionalized Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. The posts either showed support or opposition for the aforementioned issues. These accounts were then shared with nearly 200 participants, 65.9% of whom had direct experience with conducting hiring interviews.

“Almost across the board, we found that feelings of similarity impacted how the candidates thought about prospective employees,” Thatcher says. “If I feel similar to you, I am going to want to hire you, and it will change my perception of how you’re going to work.”

Thatcher adds that organizations would be well-served to create policies and training programs that encourage hiring managers to be mindful of how social media assessments may create biases that impact the ratings of job applicants. He also notes job seekers should be mindful of how their social media content may draw scrutiny and impact their likelihood of getting the job.

Essentially, it’s another reminder that whatever goes on social media stays on social media, and there are consequences for that. In this case, depending on the hiring manager’s bias, those consequences could be positive or negative.

“At its core, what this shows is that Republicans and Democrats, people who strongly hold those affiliations, are not hiring one another,” Thatcher says. “Even if a person can definitely do the work, if their beliefs differ enough with the hiring manager, then they’re not going to likely get the job.”


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2020 ElectionJason ThatcherManagement Information SystemsMISPolitical LeadershipPoliticsSocial Media