Online Social Media Employment Screening Comes of Age

Authored By W.Barry Nixon, SHRM- CMP

According to Les Rosen, CEO, Employment Screen Resources, a leading background screening expert, social media is, perhaps, the hottest trend in background screening because it allows employers to literally look inside someone’s head. In fact, according to a recent research report by the Society for Human Resource Management, 76 percent of companies are using or plan to use social media sites for recruiting and 35 percent have eliminated job candidates based on information found on the Internet.

Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, Craig’s List and YouTube have become some of the most powerful screening tools available to businesses. It has been reported that the number of adults 25 and older using these sites is growing faster than teenage and college students and the amount of Facebook users has increased from 10 million to at least 500 million. In 2011, LinkedIn announced that it had reached 100 million users.

Through social media, businesses have inside access to personal views and behavior through the applicant’s writings and pictures. It isn’t uncommon to hear about a job applicant’s status being derailed because of the business conducting a simple Google search. Things like a racist rant on Twitter or binge drinking or drug use on Facebook all raise red flags for potential employers. revealed these additional reasons that applicants were rejected, many of which can be tracked to online sources: Provocative or inappropriate photographs or information; bad-mouthing previous employers, co-workers or clients; demonstration of poor communication skills; discriminatory comments; inflated qualifications; and sharing a pervious employer’s confidential information.

Despite the benefits to using social media as a screening tool, labor attorneys have reported the following problems that employers should be concerned about when using social media:

* Information considered should be relevant to the applicant’s potential to perform the open job and free of discriminatory information. This includes information like country of origin, pregnancy, age, disability or even page likes.
* The validity of information posted. Consider who posted the information and if the information is accurate.
* Violation of the applicant’s privacy rights. Millennials have different perspectives regarding privacy and work versus personal life. Most Gen Y workers do not believe a distinction exists between the Internet and non-Internet worlds.
* Violation of the principles of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This includes getting permission, giving notice, providing transparency of the information obtained, advising the applicant if an adverse action has resulted and providing an appeal process. To ensure compliance with the FCRA, the Imperative Information Group recommends that the person conducting the research should have clear guidelines about what information is relevant the position.

Private investigators should consider taking the following steps when conducting searches based on social media: Have the client clearly identify information they are seeking and be certain that this does not violate any civil rights or privacy laws; because the FTC has ruled that searches of social media for employment purposes are considered to be a consumer report, the FCRA must be followed; validate all information; use only public profiles; request a copy of the client’s background checking policy to ensure that it addresses fair and uniform guidelines for conducting online searches; screen the more relevant sites for everyone and maintain the list of sites you screen; and, finally, keep detailed documentation and adhere to e-discover requirements.

Social media networks have become a part of society’s everyday norm. It is only logical that employers should use its information to determine the best applicant for an open position.

Post By Barry Nixon (262 Posts)

W. Barry Nixon is the COO, the leading background screening information portal and online worldwide directory of professional background screening firms and Suppliers to the background screening industry. He co-authored the landmark book, Background Screening & Investigations: Managing Hiring Risk from the HR and Security Perspective. He also is the publisher of award winning newsletters, The Background Buzz and The Global Background Screener, and the author of the Background Checks column in PI Magazine.

In addition, Barry is a past recipient of the elite ‘Top 25 Influential People in Security’ by Security Magazine and past Co-Chair, International Committee for the National Association for Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS). He currently serves as a Global Ambassador for NAPBS.

You can contact Barry at 1-949-770-5264 or online at