Social media provides great opportunities for connecting people who share similar experiences. When dealing with traumatic or particularly difficult situations, the social support afforded by social media can be invaluable. For example, in any given year, between 11-20% of US military veterans report suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and they often turn to the support offered by social media communities. And while there are many benefits to these online communities, new research is starting to uncover their hidden dark side.
THE RESEARCH STUDIES
Over the course of three studies, researchers (Pu et al., 2023) evaluated how often veterans self-disclose their PTSD status online, and how that impacts potential hiring decisions. They found that up to 34% of veterans post about having PTSD (or related symptoms), although they estimate that the actual percentage could be higher. In their second and third studies, the researchers used a sample of 290 undergraduate students and 430 working professionals to evaluate job applications and social media profiles of hypothetical job applicants. The researchers found that for those veterans who had disclosed PTSD (or related symptoms), raters demonstrated higher levels of stigma and feelings of suspicion toward them. Raters also thought that veterans with PTSD would have lower job performance and higher rates of destructive behavior compared to those who did not disclose PTSD.
This research is just one in a recent wave that considers online mental health disclosures and their impact on the hiring process (for example, see McChesney & Foster, 2023). Thus far, all research has agreed that these mental health disclosures can decrease the chances of receiving fair evaluations in a hiring setting. However, the connectedness and community provided by social media can be integral to an individual’s wellbeing. To balance both concerns, researchers suggest the following:
- Keep posts with mental health disclosures private. Social media evaluations are increasingly being used in hiring decisions and certain disclosures can lead to bias.
- Train recruiters and hiring managers regarding social media. While research agrees that social media evaluations should not be used in the hiring process, they are still commonly used. Therefore, organizations should develop training that will help standardize the evaluation process and protect against bias and stigma as much as possible.
- Re-evaluate policies and laws surrounding social media assessments in hiring decisions. It is illegal to discriminate against a candidate based on disability, such as PTSD. However, revealing disabilities may still lead to stigma in the mind of the recruiter. Organizations and lawmakers need to consider whether it is appropriate to allow social media evaluations to be used in the hiring process.
Pu, W., Roth, P. L., Thatcher, J. B., Nittrouer, C. L., & Hebl, M. (2023). Post-traumatic stress disorder and hiring: The role of social media disclosures on stigma and hiring assessments of veterans. Personnel Psychology, 76, 41-75.
Additional Citation: McChesney, J., & Foster, L. (2023). Is it #okaytosay I have anxiety and depression? Evaluations of job applicants who disclose mental health problems on LinkedIn. Journal of Business and Psychology.
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