It wasn't that long ago that many in the background screening world thought that using social media posts of candidates to make hiring decisions was illegal or, at best unethical, often citing privacy issues. Attorneys and compliance officers within many background screening companies were advising their business leaders to avoid recommending and selling background reports based on social media. As a result, many in the industry perpetuated several myths that social media background checks can only increase the legal risk to organizations that choose to use it to make hiring decisions
That was then; this is now!
In light of this past summer's riots and looting and culminating in the Capitol riot, extremists' social media posts have gained tremendous attention. There are now calls for social media vetting by our political class for those serving in defense of our nation and anyone seeking national security positions. Corporate leaders have grown equally concerned with extremist behavior and bias in their hiring practices, leading to a lack of diversity among their staff.
Given all of the misinformation in the market, it's essential to set the record straight regarding the most common myths and misconceptions about social media screening:
Myth Number 1: Social Media Screening increases legal risk.
Today, most organizations are already performing social media screening via their hiring manager's ad-hoc review or skimming of candidates' social media accounts. Since no standards are governing the interpretation of the posts across departments or managers, and its accuracy and thoroughness or lack thereof are suspect, this do-it-yourself, don't ask, don't tell policy opens up the firm to potential lawsuits based on protected class information such as race, gender, religious beliefs, etc. Outsourcing your social media background checks is paramount if you want to avoid EEOC violations and stay compliant with FCRA guidelines. Myth Number 2: Social Media Screening is an invasion of privacy.
While there are social media privacy laws in some 26 states currently, these typically pertain to prohibiting an organization in those states from asking for social media usernames and/or passwords or requiring the candidate to accept a friend request. At Ferretly, we only analyze publicly available posts for up to 7 years of history. In other words, these are posts found online that anyone can view. This is no different than viewing criminal court records for your candidate.
Myth Number 3: Social Media Screening is illegal.
In the United States and Canada, there are no laws that would prevent an organization from using publicly available information found on social media to make hiring decisions. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reviewed a case about a decade ago and concluded that as long as the provider follows FCRA guidelines, then social media reports are perfectly acceptable. However, the key is that you standardize on a consistent process across your organization and/or outsource to a firm that follows federal and state/provincial laws and regulations.
In summary, social media screening is legal, does not violate the individual's privacy, and decreases a company's overall risk. Proper social media vetting can provide organizations with valuable insight into a candidate that no other type of background check can provide, for example:
How does this candidate speak about others?
What is their general attitude, e.g., are they a positive person, do they volunteer their time, etc.?
Are they racially insensitive, or do they show biases toward a particular class of individuals?
Unlike traditional background checks, social media screening can speak to the character of an individual and identify both positive and negative characteristics. Ultimately, you are answering the question, is this person a good fit for our company culture.