The Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media Background Checking

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Shadow hand over keyboardAs social media grew in influence over the past few years in the HR and sourcing arena, it became apparent that the social media early adopters were beginning to use social media not just as a search tool, but as a screening tool. This created controversy as concerns were raised about employers invading employee’s personal privacy. There were also concerns about the increased potential for illegal discrimination since employers have access to so much more personal information than they might normally have from a resume.

Since then the use of social media in recruitment has exploded with 92 percent of employers now using social media to locate and screen candidates. But, the original concerns of privacy violation and discrimination remain, although the industry and marketplace have become more mindful and sympathetic to the issue.

For example:

  • various professional HR organizations have started issuing codes of conduct around social media screening for HR professionals;
  • candidates are more carefully managing their publicly available social data; and
  • social media services are reminding members that they should not give out their social media passwords to anyone, e.g. to an employer who has requested it for screening.

Still, in a climate of frenzied social media hiring activity, we should not lose sight of the potential for privacy violation and discrimination and I think it is therefore a good time to outline the main do’s and don’ts of social media background checking.

1. Do social screen as part of a formal HR social screening policy. Try to avoid informal social media screening where HR staff members conduct searches in a random way. Rather, consider establishing a role of social media researcher and setting a standardized search procedure where each social media outlet and Google is searched/background checked in a uniform way. If you don’t establish a social researcher role, (and even if you do), train all HR staff in the appropriate use of social media background checking.

Use a screening matrix for each background check, which lists all of the relevant, fair and legal personal criteria. Then complete the matrix for each candidate.

Ideally, your social media researcher should deliver this matrix to the HR/hiring decision maker who does not look at the raw social profiles as part of the selection process. The decision makers should make their decisions based on this formalized, social media background check matrix. Doing it this way means that although the social media profiles are used, only the legitimate criteria are taken into account as part of the selection decision. Another bonus is that everything is documented, and you can demonstrate that you have acted fairly and lawfully if a discrimination case is brought against your business.

2. Only search publicly available content. Privacy law is a legal minefield, which we don’t have time to go into here. But, in general terms, make sure that your social media background research policy only permits the reviewing of information in the public domain, and you should not request to be given permission to view a candidate’s Facebook profile (especially as the candidate has to violate the Facebook user policy to comply with your request). Also, do not compel them to give you a “guided tour” of their Facebook account during interview or insist that they become a “friend” of the company. Make sure to honor the candidate’s privacy settings that they have placed on their online content.

3. Inform candidates of your social media searching policy. Some of the information that is found on social media sites may not be reliable, so make sure to inform the candidate of your social search practice and confirm that their profile and data is indeed authentic.

4. Always follow the rules. Make sure the social media researcher and/or HR team reads and follows the privacy rules and terms of use of each social media they use for screening. This will further help to cleanse your social media background checking practices.

5. Don’t be forceful. Never attempt to force, persuade or coerce a candidate to provide access to their social media site. Accessing the candidates social private data should not be required as part of their application.

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.