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social media employee background check

Benefits and Risks of Social Media Background Checks

Social media usage continues to grow among the available workforce; the temptation to use these public facing mediums to check on potential and current employees is also growing. While information that is posted publicly isn’t always protected by privacy laws, the HOW and WHY a potential or current employer uses this data and information is protected by the same discrimination and fair hiring laws and policies as other background checks that review and look for criminal backgrounds, education verification, and the like.

There is no question that reviewing social media content and other public facing comments and interactions can help human resources and management make a more informed decision on a potential hire.

Following are a few benefits of a social media background check:

  • Ensuring the candidate matches the company’s culture and values. Social media is a medium that most users feel comfortable sharing their values, goals, and personality with others. A review of these public comments and statements can ensure that the recruit will not conflict with your organization’s mission, whether on the clock or not.
  • Awareness of potential conflicts. If an employee or recruit shows erratic or upsetting behaviors on social media, this could be warning sign that their hire would bring the same kind of issues to your team.
  • Covering Your Assets. Employees or candidates that show responsibility and ethics in their social media feed are more likely to carry those same attitudes and experiences into the workforce.

So why worry? Since social media background checks require investigation of a candidate’s personal life, it comes with several ethical and privacy concerns. If used improperly, these checks can create misinformation or negatively impact the process of hiring.

Here are a few risks of social media background checks:

  • Not the right candidate. Duplicate or similar names and fake profiles can lead to difficulty in knowing if an account actually belongs to the candidate or employee being checked.
  • Beware of protected status discovery. If information is discovered during a social media background check that is protected by federal, state, or local anti-discrimination regulations or laws that affect your hiring decision, this could lead to issues with compliance.
  • Timeliness Issues. Due to the large number of social media sites, attempting to dig into an employee’s or potential hire’s social media accounts can take a long time, and with the issues of duplicity and privacy concerns, verifying that the information you do find can take even longer. A decision on which positions and WHY a social media background check is needed is something an organization’s management and human resources team should coordinate on.

Potential Red Flags

When reviewing social media content, be aware of potential red flags, including:

  • Racist, Sexist, Discriminatory, or other forms of harassment
  • Explicit or Sexualized Content
  • Illegal Activity
  • Promotion of violence or extreme language.

Remember the EEOC Protections

During a social media review, you should also be aware that some content may contain information protected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Try to avoid legal challenges by ensuring that the following information is not used to deny employment:

  • Age
  • Citizenship
  • Pregnancy or Children
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Disiblities
  • Gender
  • Religion
  • Race

Compliance Best Practices

Another way to ensure minimizing potential legal challenges is to ensure compliance with federal, state, and local laws and regulations. Here are some additional strategies:

  • Hire a 3rd Party reporting company that has a reputation for complying with FRCA requirements.
  • Create specific policies for social media monitoring and be upfront about the process throughout the hiring process.
  • Get written consent from any potential hire allowing for a review of their social media content.
  • Only public content should be reviewed; no passwords or access to the candidate’s profile should be requested.
  • Findings should be documented if content is found that becomes a factor to the hiring or rescreening of an employee.


Questions? Call AIS at (800) 295 7109 to learn more about our employee background screening process, or visit our website:

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