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Should Employers Conduct Social Media Background Checks?

Tammy Cohen, PHR, SHRM-CP

March 15 2017

Social media is a valuable resource for employers to find information about their potential hires. However, as more employers take advantage of social media platforms and the information available, more potential job candidates become concerned with their privacy rights.

This begs the question: are social media background checks an ethical and legal way to learn information about job candidates? Here are a few pros and cons about conducting social media background checks:

 

Advantages

It Is a Thorough Search— Social media profiles showcase a much different side of a person than an application, resume, or even an interview. This form of background check is a thorough search on social media to see anything and everything they have posted. 

Verification— People tend to be more talkative on social media outlets, showing new facets of their personality with each post. Candidates can prove their written communication skills, which is a talent that is better proven by example than merely mentioned in a resume.

 

Disadvantages

Privacy Settings— When accessing public social media accounts, privacy is not an issue as the candidate purposefully placed that information to be seen. The trouble occurs when you have a job candidate that has their social media profile set to private, so only friends or followers can view the profile’s content. Some companies have figured out a way to bypass this step by either acquiring the candidate’s login information or sending a friend request in order to access the candidate’s profile. However, social media platforms are continually working to secure its members’ profiles and privacy.

Laws— In addition to social media platforms, federal and state laws have restricted permission of data for employers. Employers can’t request logins for social media profiles. It is a federal crime to disregard any social media platform’s terms and conditions. So, many social media platforms, such as Facebook, include a privacy clause in their statement. There are also concerns about discrimination because many candidates will have information about their race, gender, age, religion and other points of issue on their profiles.

Conducting social media background checks on your own can lead to legal and ethical problems. Using a third-party screening company, however, can provide the information you need without violating your candidate’s privacy. Hiring a professional background screening company can provide a more comprehensive background check than doing the research internally. Third-party screening companies can conduct a social media background check on your candidate and stay compliant with laws and regulations. Simply put, these third-party background screening companies omit personal details such as race, gender, religion and other discriminatory factors before they ever reach your team.

While there are legal limitations on social media background checks, social media is a valuable resource. There are legal means to acquire the useful information it provides if it is already public. If the candidate has their profile set to private, then don’t overstep that boundary. Ultimately if you want to legally conduct a social media background check, make sure you disclose it in an authorization release that permits the company to perform the social media evaluation. Using a background screening company can help ensure you do not access or use protected class information, for example, seeing a picture of a pregnant applicant or someone’s post about their mission trip. These steps take away liability for the employer as it gives notice to the search and only provides information relevant to the hiring process.

 

Get the rundown on social media searches here.

About Tammy Cohen

Tammy Cohen, an industry pioneer and expert in identity and employment screening, founded InfoMart over 28 years ago. Deemed the “Queen of Screen,” she’s been a force behind industry-leading innovations. She was most recently the first-to-market with a fully compliant sanctions search, as well as a suite of identity services that modernizes talent onboarding. Tammy revolutionized the screening industry when she stepped into the field, developing the first client-facing application and a due diligence criminal search that has since become standard for all background screening companies. Cohen has received national awards and honors for her business and civic involvement, including Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Top 25 Women-Owned Firms in Atlanta, Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year award, the YWCA of Northwest Georgia’s Kathryn Woods Racial Justice Award, and a commendation in the 152nd Congressional Record. To learn more about Tammy, visit www.tammycohen.com.

About InfoMart

InfoMart has been revolutionizing the global background and identity screening industry for over 28 years, providing businesses the information they need to make informed hiring decisions. They develop innovative technology that modernizes talent onboarding, including a first-to-market biometric identity authentication application and a verified sanctions search. The WBENC-certified company is a founding member of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners, and they have achieved NAPBS accreditation in recognition of their consistent business practices and commitment to compliance with the FCRA. The company is dedicated to customer service, speed, and accuracy, and it has been recognized for its success, workplace culture, and corporate citizenship with over 40 industry awards. To Get the Whole Story on InfoMart, please visit www.infomart-usa.com, follow @InfoMartUSA, or call (770) 984-2727.

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