Social Media Background Checks: Everything You Need to Know

Running legal background checks on job candidates is a standard part of the hiring process, but some companies are also starting to research their candidates on social media in addition to reviewing their legal history. Reviewing the social media of potential employees can provide you with useful insights, but may also cause challenges based on hiring bias. Understanding the basics of social media background checks before using them on job candidates can help you get the most out of the process.

 

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What are social media background checks?

Social media background checks are the practice of reviewing a potential employee’s social media and web presence to ensure they are an appropriate fit for a position. Some employers perform a quick scan of public profiles on major social media websites, while others conduct in-depth scans of blogs, comment sections and other traces of a candidate’s digital activity. Information found on social media can confirm details on a candidate’s application and real new insights about how they conduct themselves.

 

Why do employers use social media background checks?

Employers use social media background checks to learn about candidates as a person, including how they conduct themselves in public and any comments they have made about their professional history. They can indicate a candidate’s demeanor and give employers a holistic view of how they might fit in with their company’s workplace culture.

Social media background checks are more relevant to some positions than others. The online presence of employees who work with the public and directly represent the company may have more of an impact than the social media profiles of back-end staff that do not associate their name with their employer. 

Related: Social Hiring: How to Leverage Social Media for Recruitment

 

Pros and cons of social media background checks

Although employers can learn valuable information by browsing job candidates’ online activity, social media background checks can have both positive and negative effects on a company and its applicants. Before deciding on a social media background check policy, make sure you know the possible risks and rewards:

 

Benefits of checking a candidate’s social media

The content applicants post on their social media can give hiring managers an idea of each candidate’s character. Searching the social media accounts of job applicants can help your hiring team make a fully informed decision through a range of benefits:

  • Vetting culture fit: Some people post about their values, goals and personality on their social media profiles, allowing you to get a sense of how they could contribute to the company culture. A social media background check can ensure that applicants uphold your company’s mission even when they are not on the clock.
  • Identifying warning signs: A review of applicant social media posts can alert you to erratic or concerning behaviors that could cause liability issues for the business or cause friction among current staff. Social media background checks can reveal if candidates were dishonest during their application or have any potentially damaging information posted online.
  • Protecting your company’s image: If your company has a prominent image, you may need to have high standards when it comes to your employees’ public image, including their public posts online. Employees who make offensive or concerning posts on social media may be traced back to their employer and cause bad publicity.

 

Negative effects of social media background checks

Because social media background checks involve learning about a candidate’s personal life, they come with multiple privacy and ethical concerns. If not conducted properly, social media background checks can spread misinformation or inappropriately impact the hiring process in these ways:

  • Duplicates and false information: Not all information online is reliable. Many people share the same name, and you may be unable to determine which account belongs to the job candidate. People can also assume other identities online, causing your hiring manager to improperly attribute posts to an applicant.
  • Possible discrimination: Just like with criminal background checks, social media background checks need to comply with federal regulations. It is possible that you could discover protected information during a social media check that could impact your hiring decisions inappropriately.
  • Negative impact on employer brand: Some people may feel that social media checks are an invasion of their personal privacy. Extensive social media checks could create a negative impression of your company as controlling or overly strict.
  • Wasting time: If you decide to conduct social media background checks in-house, they can be extremely time-consuming. There are a number of social media websites you may need to check for each candidate without being sure they even have a profile on each site.

 

Red flags to look for on social media

If you decide to perform a social media review, focus on any warning signs on applicant profiles that could make you think they would not be able to do the job appropriately. These red flags include:

  • Discriminatory, racist or sexist comments
  • Explicit content
  • Possible illegal activity
  • Violent language or behavior

 

What social media information can’t influence a hiring decision?

When browsing social media, you may come across information that is protected under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This can put your company in a difficult legal situation because applicants may claim that their protected class information found in a social media search caused hiring discrimination. None of the following information can legally be used to deny employees a job according to the EEOC:

  • Age
  • Citizenship status
  • Pregnancy or children
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender
  • Religion
  • Race

 

Best practices for conducting social media background checks

To stay compliant with the law and get the most out of your social media background check, use these strategies:

  • Use a third-party reporting agency that complies to strict FRCA requirements.
  • Develop policies about your social media monitoring and be clear about them during the hiring process.
  • Ask for written consent from the applicant to review their social media to comply with federal reporting rules.
  • Only review public information, and never ask for a candidate’s password.
  • Document your findings if you discover concerning content to protect against discrimination allegations.
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