Are Social Media Checks Really Useful for Employers?

The “rise” of social media is over—it's here, and it's here to stay. Of the many ramifications that social media's development brought with it, its effects on employability and the hiring process are a critical concern for both businesses and job seekers.  

Some employers see a social media screening as a critical step in determining if someone is a good fit for a company, but applicants often see it as an invasion of privacy. Some lawmakers see it that way, too; in Canada, employers must seek consent to check social media pages, and applicants can withdraw their consent any time. 

Setting aside the privacy debate, there are simple questions that most employers want to answer: can you learn anything of value from a social media screening? Can you use what you learn? Is it worth your time? Employers face multiple potential problems when they decide to incorporate social media into employee background checks.  

First, there is no way to guarantee access to—or the accuracy of—the information that you seek. According to a survey cited in a report by Workforce, nearly half (43%) of job-seekers and employees use a privacy setting to restrict who can view their information on social media. It can be a challenge to positively identify an applicant online, especially on sites such as Twitter that put less emphasis on identity accuracy. Privacy settings combined with the potential for false positives can translate into time wasted.  

Second, a social media screening results in a large volume of information that is irrelevant to employer concerns. Are photos of last night's meal or discussions about the latest blockbuster film likely to have any real impact on the decision to give someone a job? It may take a significant amount of time to comb through an applicant’s extensive social media presence—time spent with little tangible benefit to employers.  

Third, a social media screening can raise the risk of running afoul of anti-discrimination and fair hiring laws during employee background checks. An employer may encounter sensitive personal details on social media. While a hiring manager may not believe that he or she would allow such information to unfairly prejudice a hiring decision, the impression of impropriety can be enough. As more states clamp down on social media screenings, there are growing risks for investigating an applicant's social media indiscriminately.  

Thorough employee background checks are an essential process for any business, but the inclusion of a social media screening can raise concerns more than it solves problems. In most cases, employers should use the interview process and reliable background check tools to develop a clearer picture of an applicant's suitability. backgroundchecks.com offers a range of services, including multi-jurisdictional and instant background checks along with credit reports and other useful information. Don't rely on a social media screening to get a quick look at job applicants—seek the bigger picture instead. 

Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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