Are Social Media Background Checks Legal?
October 7 2022
Running a social media background check is a valuable way to find information about a potential new hire. It paints a fuller, more detailed picture of candidates since it includes additional details that employers would not typically glean from an interview or resume. As social media background checks become more common, employers must take their applicants’ privacy rights into consideration to mitigate risk.
You may be wondering: are social media background checks legal? They are. However, they come with a complicated list of policies that make it nearly impossible for companies to do it themselves without breaking the law. The best way for an employer to ensure they run compliant social media background checks is by working with a reputable third party, like a background screening company. At InfoMart, our solution checks candidates’ and employees’ social media profiles to deliver actionable reports, highlighting any information a company may need to know to make a legal, informed hiring decision.
Advantages of Social Media Background Checks
Get a Comprehensive Search— Social media profiles often showcase a different side of a person than an application, resume, or interview. A social media background check allows for a thorough screening process. It searches for adverse social media content across the internet rather than checking just a short list of the most well-known sites. Properly conducted social media background checks look for workplace safety concerns, such as:
- demonstrations of racism or intolerance
- potentially violent or illegal activity
- sexually explicit material
Combat Insider Threats— Insider threat incidents can happen at any level within your organization. These are typically perpetrated by anyone who has received access to sensitive data, like current and former employees, vendors, or business partners, which puts your company in a potentially vulnerable position. Implementing a modern screening processthat includes social media background checks adds an extra layer of protection to your threat mitigation program by identifying high-risk job candidates and vendors before they gain access to sensitive data. This preserves your organizational values while also protecting your shareholders’ privacy.
Protect Your Brand— Your business’s brand is on display for public opinion. Social media screening prevents lawsuits and negative press from tarnishing your brand’s reputation by weeding out risky candidates. For example, if your company unknowingly hires a registered sex offender, your brand would likely take a huge hit. Running a standard background check on new-hires and continuously monitoring current employees ensures no one at your company is a registered sex offender. However, social media screening adds an extra layer of protection by scanning for signs of sexual harassment across the internet, accounting for any candidates who display predatory behavior who may not have gotten charged with a crime yet. Running a social media background check also adds another line of defense against increasingly prevalent internal cybersecurity threats.
Risks of Running Social Media Background Checks In-House
Federal and state laws restrict employers’ data permissions. For example, it is a federal crime for employers to go against a social media platform’s terms and conditions by requesting logins for social media profiles. Most social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, include a privacy clause in their statements.
Running a social media background check in-house also raises concerns about hiring discrimination since many candidates’ profiles contain information about their race, gender, age, religion, sex, national origin, and more, none of which are legal to use as grounds for employment decisions. Conducting social media background checks on your own may expose you to this protected information, leading to legal and ethical problems, as outlined by the EEOC.
A Real-World Example
When conducting a social media search on his own, a hiring manager sees that a candidate is a member of a Facebook group about pregnancy, indicating that they might be pregnant now or in the near future. Using subconscious bias, the hiring manager mentally disqualify the candidate from the position. Even if he recognized that it’s illegal to use this information for employment decisions, it’s impossible for him to un-see something that causes subconscious bias, putting his organization at risk.
How a Background Check Company Helps
While there are legal limitations on social media background checks, social media remains a valuable resource. There are legal means to acquire the useful information a candidate’s social media profile provides if it is already public. Using a third-party screening company offers any adverse information without violating a candidate or vendor’s privacy and builds a more comprehensive background check solution than doing the research internally. Professional background screening companies also know how to conduct social media background checks compliantly by omitting personal details and other discriminatory factors before they ever reach your team.
Another important note to keep in mind: a legally conducted social media background check requires disclosure in an authorization release form that permits the company to perform the social media evaluation. You should consult your legal counsel for assistance in creating this form. An authorization form takes away liability from the employer by giving notice of the search and only providing information relevant to the hiring process.
So, “Are social media background checks legal?”
Yes—but only if they’re conducted compliantly. While it is risky and potentially unlawful to conduct these searches on your own, going through a third-party screening company like InfoMart allows your company to reap the benefits of this valuable service without having to worry about legal issues.
Get the rundown on social media searches here.
InfoMart is dedicated to building customizable screening solutions for each company’s unique needs. If you want to learn more about how we can implement social media background checks into your business’s background screening process, reach out to an InfoMart sales representative today.
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About Tammy Cohen
Tammy Cohen, an industry pioneer and expert in identity and employment screening, founded InfoMart 30 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.
InfoMart has been revolutionizing the global background and identity screening industry for 30 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 Professional Background Screening Association, and they have achieved PBSA 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 45 industry awards. To Get the Whole Story on InfoMart, please visit www.InfoMart-USA.com, follow @InfoMartUSA, or call (770) 984-2727.