August 20, 2014 Articles

The Real Estate Industry Must Be Cautious with Social Media

Accessing an applicant's online presence could get a lender or agent in legal trouble.

By Katherine F. Cser

The rising number of states enacting laws limiting employer access to the social media accounts of employees and job applicants should have the real estate industry, which is covered by the Fair Housing Act and local human rights laws, paying close attention to its own social media practices.

The FHA and Social Media

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits certain housing providers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of their race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin. 42 U.S.C. § 3604. Individuals’ social media profiles frequently highlight some of these protected characteristics. According to a Carnegie Mellon study, between a tenth and a third of U.S. firms consult social media sites before making a hiring decision, and some job applicants were denied interviews on the basis of their affiliation with a protected category. The Wall Street Journal reports that in certain parts of the country, job applicants with dummy profiles reflecting a particular religion were more likely to be denied interviews compared to those with profiles reflecting another religion.

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