— July 25, 2018
A modern applicant most likely about their personal, social and even professional lives stashed away on one or more social media platforms. This is just the reality of modern life. People – often unthinkingly – post the minutest details of their lives on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and the dozens of other social media platforms.
For employers, this seems like a treasure trove. Social media seems the perfect place to begin a background check. In fact – every once in a while – stories pop up of applicants losing out on opportunities because prospective employers discovered something incriminating on their social media pages. This is becoming so ubiquitous that career guidance programs are incomplete without cautions to prospective employees to think twice before sharing something on social media.
Employers also need to take a variant of this advice. They need to think twice before checking applicants’ social media pages for background information. As a matter of fact, they should desist from it altogether. Here’s why.
Percent Of Red Flags Found
Roughly 10% of reports come back with red flags indicating potential workplace safety issues.
A study conducted a six-month study to determine what type of behavior we find most frequently.
Here is a breakdown:
- 66% of flagged reports contained racist content.
- 56% of flagged reports contained sexual content.
- 29% of flagged reports contained illegal content.
- 25% of flagged reports contained violent content.
In addition, the study uncovered multiple reports containing multiple red flags, or adverse behaviors:
- 54% contained one behavior.
- 21% contained two behaviors.
- 16% contained three behaviors.
- 9% contained all four behaviors.
54% of candidates who display adverse behavior on social media displayed 1 type of adverse behavior, while 9% displayed all four.
So what can you do and learn about this? Read more below.
The law (specifically Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) prohibits discriminating against people in employment. Particularly, it outlaws discrimination on the basis of color, race, gender, religion and national origin. This makes it illegal to deny someone employment on the basis of these characteristics. According to employment law, the information on these characteristics (i.e. race, color, etc) is classified as “protected information”. Employers are barred from asking for this information during the recruitment process.
Visiting an applicant’s social media page is almost guaranteed to provide access to protected information. The pictures and posts are almost certain to reveal an applicant’s gender, race, color and so on. Just accessing this information is a breach of anti-discrimination laws. If an applicant finds out and sues the employer, it becomes extremely difficult for the employer to claim that the information did not play a part in their decision making.
This is why employers need to steer clear of applicants’ social media pages. If you really must check, conduct a social media background check, then the best thing is to have a specialist at employment law to view the pages, black out any protected information and then pass on the rest of the information for you to look at.
Most social media platforms give users some measure of privacy control over their information. This usually takes the form of restricting who has access to the information. Facebook, for instance, has a private section where information is supposed to be visible only to “Friends”. Any other person who accesses this information does so illegally. There have been cases of people being tracked and sued for having unauthorized access to information on social media.
Right now, the only way to avoid the conundrums of privacy violations is through asking applicants for two things (1) permission to view their social media platforms and (2) login credentials to their social media platforms. This will certainly have you covered on the issue of privacy, the question then turns to how well you can trust the information you find on social media.
A False Image
When a social media background ground check comes back squeaky-clean i.e. nothing embarrassing, unethical or illegal; does this mean that the applicant is flawless? The answer to this question is of course ‘NO’. Everybody knows that people can create multiple social media accounts – even kids do so to hoodwink their parents.
Most people who behave in questionable ways online often do so under the guise of pseudonyms. They create accounts with no relation to their actual names to conduct their nefarious activities from. Simultaneously, they often have innocent-looking accounts under their own names. Any employer who asks about their social media accounts will be directed to the innocent-looking ones.
This factor reveals the fundamental flaw in conducting social media background checks. Because people mask their identities online, the check can reveal nothing incriminating. Meanwhile, the applicant can be far from the squeaky clean individual revealed in the social media background check.
Even applicants whose actual accounts contain questionable content can quickly delete it once they are requested for their login credentials. As such, by the time the employer looks, all the bad stuff is gone. Is there a way out of this? Well, most employers opt to surprise the applicant by simply Googling them up or searching for them on the social media platform.
The problem with simply running a search is the possibility of misidentifying a person. How do you know that the John Smith you’re looking at is the same one applying for a position with you? This is, of course, impossible in cases where there multiple accounts with similar names. The risk of misidentifying the person, and thus making a wrong decision is quite high.
Even when the account contains personal details and pictures of the applicant, this doesn’t mean that it is owned and run by them. There have been numerous cases where nefarious people – with the sole aim of malice – have created accounts in the names of other people. These accounts are often filled with enough personal details to make them look authentic. They are then peppered with racist, misogynistic, pornographic or other kinds of content designed to make the person look bad.
Basically, even when you think you’ve hit the “jackpot” in finding an account with incriminating information about an applicant, it doesn’t mean the information is authentic. It could be an attempt by a malicious person to blackmail the applicant.
Is There A Way Out?
The bottom line is that conducting your own social media background checks presents lots of risks. Aside from the legal concerns, there is the question of information accuracy. A remedy for dealing with the legal risks has been suggested i.e. hiring a lawyer to look through the social media profile and redact all the protected information. The only challenge is – given the way lawyers tend to charge for their services – this can be a costly undertaking.
Fortunately, there is a simpler way of dealing with both the legal and accuracy concerns. This is through hiring background checking experts to conduct the social media checks for you. Hiring an expert will get you covered legally i.e. you will not have direct access to the social media platforms and so won’t come across any protected information. Background checking companies are also aware of the laws concerned and thus best placed to protect you from any legal tripwires.
Where background checking companies thrive is in getting accurate information. This is because such companies usually have the resources and expertise to conduct thorough investigations. They also usually correlate the information on social media platforms with information from other sources. This ensures that you get the most accurate complete profile of a candidate possible.
Therefore, if you’re interested in conducting social media background checks, the safest option is to hire experts to carry them out for you. This will ensure that you get the kind of information you need to make informed hiring decisions.