Should Employers Conduct Social Media Background Checks?

Social media is a valuable resource for employers to find information about their potential hires to determine if the candidate is the right fit for the company. 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 as to whether social media background checks are an ethical and legal means to glean information about job candidates. Here are a few pros and cons about conducting social media background checks:


It Is a Thorough Search—Social media profiles showcase a much different side of a potential employee than an application, resume or even an interview can bring out. This form of background check is a very thorough search as many on social media tend to post anything and everything they have just so people can see, like and comment on the post.


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


Privacy Settings—When accessing public information, privacy is not an issue as the candidate purposefully placed that information to be easily seen. The trouble occurs when you have a job candidate that has his or her social media profile set to private, so only friends 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 getting smarter at securing its member’s profiles and privacy.

Laws—In addition to social media platforms, federal and state laws have restricted permission of data for employers. Employers are no longer able to 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, including 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 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 keep compliance with the appropriate 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 conducting social media background checks, social media is a valuable resource and there are legal means to acquire useful information 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.



InfoMart is the leading provider of pre-employment background screening services that range from criminal history to references.

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