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An HR Glossary for HR Terms

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

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Social Media Background Screening

What Is a Pre-Employment Social Media Screening? 

A pre-employment social media screening (also called a social media background screening) is the practice of researching a job applicant’s profiles and activities on social networking platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and elsewhere. The intent is to learn more about the applicant’s background and determine whether there is anything the company should be aware of before offering a job.

What Is a Social Media Background Check?

A social media background check is the same as a pre-employment social media screening mentioned above, but it can be performed by anyone for any reason. Depending on the platform and the user’s security settings, any information that is posted online is there to stay and available to be viewed by the public, free of charge.

What Red Flags May Come Up During a Social Media Background Check?

When conducting a social media background check, bits of information may come to light that could indicate an employee might not be a good fit for the company. There are so-called red flags that may not actually inhibit a person’s ability to perform the job, but that happen to put employers off. Such things could include posts exhibiting excessive cursing, pictures of hard partying, or extreme political opinions. 

The red flags that may come up during a social media background check, and that companies should take seriously, are:

  • Unlawful activity (drugs, underage drinking, etc.)

  • Racist or sexist comments

  • Violent or aggressive behavior (including trolling or stalking)

  • Sexually explicit material

  • Confidential information 

Responsible, well-informed, and respectful people—workers most employers would prefer to hire—tend not to have such things come up during a social media background check.  

Do Background Checks Assess Social Media?

Typical or traditional background checks do not assess social media activity. A regular background check can be run on a person by a potential employer, landlord, or anyone else who has the person’s Social Security number, address, and consent. The cost of an official background check ranges between $20 and $100.

Depending on the type of background check, the findings may cover:

  • Eligibility to work in the U.S.

  • Employment history

  • Professional licenses

  • Education

  • Driving record

  • Criminal records

  • Credit history

  • Medical history

  • Military service

What Are the Benefits of Social Media Background Checks to Employers?

The benefits of social media background checks to employers are that they:

  • Look for information that supports an applicant’s resume claims.

  • Save time on calling and speaking to an applicant’s personal and professional references.

  • Discover a potential employee’s business network and professional endorsements.

  • Vet a potential employee against potential risks and red flags (as discussed above).

  • Decrease employee complaints, disciplinary action, and turnover.

Should Employers Do Internal Social Media Background Checks?

Employers may choose to do internal social media background checks as well as pre-employment ones. However, despite potential benefits, these include time-consuming work and (sometimes serious) risk. 

When an employer does a deep dive on an employee or potential employee, there comes a chance of either accidentally or purposely violating personal freedoms or discrimination laws.

Discrimination claims are also a clear risk that can arise from performing internal social media checks. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is very clear—employees and job applicants are protected “from employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.” When an employer opts into learning more about a person’s personal information, it opens the company up to potential lawsuits. 

Additionally, the perception of an employer looking into one’s personal life doesn’t often sit well with employees. They may feel burdened, judged, untrusted, irritated, or even censored. An employee may end up questioning whether actions were taken for or against them based on their likes, interests, friends, photos, or public musings. This bodes badly for mutual trust and loyalty.

Are There Any Social Media Screening Tools for Employers?

Yes, there are social media screening tools for employers. Should an employer decide to jump into the background of its employees, it’s prudent to first consult with a risk mitigation company or a professional social media background screening service. This step will help companies avoid potential risks and ensures a measure of protection for employers by giving them access to only applicable and appropriate information.

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