Pros and Cons of Conducting A Pre-Employment Social Media Background Check


It is safe to assume that a review of a prospective employee’s social media content will be conducted as part of the new hiring norm as it relates to pre-employment background checks.

It’s also true that, often now, corporate counsel is advising HR managers to be careful with the information they glean from these social media site checks with regard to the manner in which it is used.   Using negative content to reject the candidate may backfire if it appears to be, for example,  racist or misogynistic in nature.  Conversely, one of the first things under the investigation microscope in a workplace violence case is the thoroughness of the background check of the alleged victimizer, to include social media content review.

From my collegaues at “the Background Investigator“:  Research from the Society For Human Resource Management, (SHRM) revealed that 76 percent of employers that don’t use social media when conducting background checks said they avoid this practice mostly because of the legal concerns.
Jonathan Segal, a partner at Duane Morris LLP in the employment, labor, benefits and immigration practice group, said that while there are risks in checking out social media when screening candidates, there are also risks in not looking at it.
“Sometimes, lawyers think [businesses] are taking a risk [by looking at social media], but they could be taking a bigger risk [by not looking], because then they hire the person that is dangerous or unproductive,” Segal said.

In May, the FTC gave a company called Social Intelligence the green light to run background checks of your  Internet and social media history. The Federal Trade Commission now allows companies to run social media background checks and to compile your information. Companies such as Social Intelligence. 

Contrary to initial reports, Social Intelligence doesn’t store seven years worth of your social data. Rather it looks at up to seven years of your history, and stores nothing.

It screens for aggressive or violent acts or assertions, unlawful activity, discriminatory activity (for example, making racist statements), and sexually explicit activity. And it doesn’t pass on identifiable photos of you at all. In other words, your drunken kegs stand photos are probably fine as long as you’re not wearing a T-shirt with a swastika or naked from the waist down.

Basically, it just wants to know if you’re the kind of misfit who will cause legal hassles for an employer.

If you do review social media in your employment process, make sure you preserve the items that you considered in your research.  (Don’t assume that the content you considered will remain available.  Many people remove objectionable material from their online profiles once they realize that it could reflect poorly during their employment search or simply, the content can drop off the site during updates.)

We advise all of our clients – when considering a prospective new hire – to have the candidate sign an attestation that all of the information that they have provided is accurate and true to the best of their knowledge and evidence of falsifying any information will be grounds for dismissal.   Also, it wouldn’t hurt to have him sign off on permission to review his social media content.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.



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