How to Conduct a Social Media Background Check

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Posted by: David Garcia

Topics: Background Check 101, Technology, Human Resources, Compliance, Recruitment

Background checks ensure the safety of current staff members and customers alike and assure companies that they haven't hired the wrong person. With the advent of social media, more employers are looking to these online platforms to expand their screening processes. 

Social media background checks can provide vital information about a candidate’s conduct outside the job — behavior that could impact the company’s reputation. However, this type of screening also is relatively new, and businesses don’t want to risk violating hiring ethics or labor laws.

In this guide, we'll take you through social media background checks. Keep reading to learn why businesses may want to consider this vetting process, what they reveal, and how to carry one out efficiently and ethically. 

What Is a Social Media Background Check?

A social media background check is when an employer or a third-party screening service reviews a prospective candidate’s social media channels. They should not be the only form of background check used during the screening process. Instead, they should constitute one element of a more comprehensive package of screening procedures, such as criminal background checks and employment verification.

Social media screening provides companies with personalized insight into an applicant that they wouldn't ordinarily get. For this reason, they are a highly valuable tool in an employer's arsenal, but only when used correctly. 

Organizations can land themselves in legal trouble if they misuse these checks. We'll explain more about that in our FAQ section. First, let's talk about why an employer could benefit from a social media check. 

Why Conduct a Background Check on Social Media?

It is rare to find anyone who doesn't have some form of presence on social media in the modern era. Commonly, people will possess multiple accounts across platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and more. These accounts can prove highly revealing if appropriately screened, especially when trying to decipher whether or not a candidate is a good fit for the company culture. 

In addition to potentially revealing an applicant's personality, these online profiles can also give insight into how risky a prospective employee could be. Data security is more important than ever, and cyberattacks often occur from within the organization

Hiring the wrong person can have costly consequences, and social media can be a valuable tool for highlighting some potentially significant red flags. 

What Can a Social Media Background Check Reveal?

Social media can provide direct insight into individuals in a way that job interviews simply can't. 

In a job interview, candidates know to put their best foot forward and present their best selves. They're typically more comfortable about what they're willing to show online. 

Listed below are some of the key things an employer may find when completing a social media background check. 

An Individual's Values

Social media is frequently a space where people share their opinions freely. Looking over a candidate's Twitter account can reveal much information about who they align themselves with and what values they stand for. 

In most instances, politics is not appropriate as the basis for employment discrimination. Still, more extreme views can undoubtedly influence a hiring decision. 

The increasing extremism found on social media isn't something that employers should ignore. In the worst scenarios, these extremists can reflect poorly on the organization. 

Remember, even the friendliest of applicants can harbor dangerous views. Social media can be a vital tool for revealing this information. 

Potential Privacy Issues

Some people share everything on social media entirely indiscriminately. If they wish to share all facets of their personal life with the world, that's their prerogative. However, if they take the same approach to their professional life, that can prove problematic to a business.

Oversharing details of their work life or negative opinions about the company can prove harmful to the organization's reputation. Screening an applicant's social media can give a company insight into how they may conduct themselves following employment. 

Links to Controversial Organizations

We discussed the risks of extremism on social media above, but this rarely happens independently. There is almost always an external influence involved. Usually, it takes the form of another website or group that propagates harmful information. 

Even if a candidate has a seemingly innocuous social media presence, their affiliations may not be entirely so innocent. Such connections can reflect poorly on the hiring organization. 

When completing a social media screening process, employers should check who their candidates follow and engage with online. This network can sometimes prove more revealing than the information they post themselves. 

Criminal Activity

You might be surprised by how relaxed people can be on social media, which extends to how comfortable they are posting revealing things on social media. Astoundingly, this extends to even incriminating information, such as posting images and videos while under the influence of restricted substances. 

For obvious reasons, this is of interest to prospective employers. Weeding out candidates who partake and openly share their criminal activity is part of what can make social media screening so important. 

How to Carry Out a Social Media Background Check

An employer should complete several vital steps to ensure that they get the most out of their screening process. We've listed some of them below. 

1. Create a Standardized Screening Plan

Consistency is critical in any screening process, and social media checks are no different. Employers need to start by creating a detailed plan of what kind of information they want to retrieve and how that will manifest in a finalized report. 

Employers should also consider what information will most influence the hiring decision. That way, whoever completes the screening process knows what to look for. 

Standardization makes the screening process more manageable and fairer. Candidates should not be treated unequally at any point in the recruitment process, including social media background screening. 

All candidates are subject to the same criteria with a standardized process, and screeners have a set program to follow. 

2. Obtain the Candidate's Consent

In line with FCRA guidelines, employers must request written consent from an applicant before beginning any background screening, including a social media check. 

Without this consent, the employer could put themselves in severe legal jeopardy. Of particular concern is whether the candidate claims discriminatory practices based on their social media information led to an adverse hiring decision. Employers must always seek explicit written permission to ensure safety and fairness on both sides. 

It is often helpful for employers to have a standardized and pre-prepared form for candidates to fill out before the screening process begins. The consent form is beneficial for two key reasons. 

The first is that it's an easy way to gather written consent. The second is that it allows the candidate to share their profile usernames, saving the employer time searching for their accounts. 

Additionally, the consent form will reduce the risk of employers looking at the wrong account and misidentifying the applicant’s social media profile just because they share a name with the candidate.

3. Utilize Search Engines to Find Accounts

Most individuals have multiple social media accounts, even on the same platform. To this end, search engines can prove exceptionally helpful during background screening. 

Use a variety of searches with the candidate's full name and location, and their social media accounts should appear. If you struggle to find them, try adding the specific platform you're looking for after their full name. 

Some social media accounts will require you to sign up before you can begin searching for other profiles, so make sure that step is complete first. Otherwise, many of your searches will be futile. 

If the candidate's social media accounts are private, there is little you can do unless you get explicit permission from the individual to view the profile. 

4. Finalize Your Full Report

Once the screening process is complete, compile all relevant information into a centralized report. 

This record should include details on the specific candidate and any information that stood out from their social media profiles that may be particularly relevant. It should also list which profiles were visited and the information acquired from each. 

Recruiters will want to discuss findings from this report internally and raise any issues with candidates at a later date if deemed necessary. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Social Media Monitoring Legal?

Yes, if the candidate has provided the proper written consent, social media monitoring is entirely legal. The only instance where an employer may be at fault is if they complete social media monitoring without providing the candidate or employee with notice in advance. Doing so without consent could potentially violate data privacy and protection laws. 

Can Social Media Affect an Employer's Final Decision?

Yes, although it shouldn't without reasonable cause. For example, hate speech found on a candidate's profile is reasonable cause for an employer to withdraw an offer of employment. In other cases, employers may choose not to employ a candidate based on less offensive information they find that could nonetheless prove problematic. 

Unfortunately, it's difficult for candidates to prove they were denied employment due to their social media alone. 

Can Social Media Accurately Reflect Professionalism?

Many argue that social media is an individual's personal business and has no bearing on how effective they may perform professionally. Others, however, believe that these channels give direct insight into how an individual behaves outside of a work environment. 

Regardless of who is right in this debate, social media can be very telling. It is advisable for candidates and employees alike to carefully manage their social media presence out of caution.

Conclusion

A social media background check may feel somewhat invasive from a candidate's perspective, but it is an insightful tool for employers. Social media checks can prove highly illuminating when used as part of a more comprehensive screening process.

At ScoutLogic, we provide a wide array of background screening services, from criminal and employment history to drug testing, driving records, and ad hoc verification. Contact ScoutLogic today to get a screening service tailored to you and managed by your very own recruiting Scout

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