The vast majority of people have some form of presence on social media today. It's tough to avoid, whether you have a longstanding Facebook account, a LinkedIn page you barely use, or a Twitter account that you use too much. Connecting with friends or joining in the public discourse online is a part of daily life for many people today—and it can be a complicating factor when trying to find a job.
Companies already carry out a range of procedures to establish a candidate's trustworthiness and suitability. Looking into criminal records, for example, is a critical step that can protect the business from future liability and accusations of negligent hiring practices. However, some companies and even some school districts have taken an interest in going further.
A business may want to protect itself from harm to its brand and reputation, too—not merely reduce the risk of hiring someone who may later commit a crime. Some hiring managers see social media background checks as a vital part of due diligence—but is it?
The entire idea can feel like a massive invasion of privacy for applicants. Some jurisdictions have outlawed considering social media posts or asking for access to an individual's private account during the hiring process. In much of the country, though, that isn't true—and the process exists in a gray area fraught with potential pitfalls. What considerations do people on both sides of the equation need to make?
What to Do as a Concerned Job Applicant
Some privacy advocates recommend what might seemed like a scorched earth tactic: erase as much of your social media presence as possible while applying to jobs. An article in the New York Times' Wirecutter Magazine recently provided tips and tricks for using an online tool to delete your old tweets automatically. Since Twitter accounts are public by default and posts never disappear on their own, an employer could theoretically turn up information they consider damaging to your application.
As a best practice, maintain strict privacy settings on social media if you must use these platforms. Protect your tweets, limit your Facebook account to friends only, and investigate the privacy settings on your other platforms. Deleting your tweets might not be a bad idea, either.
Employers Face Challenging Ethics With Social Media Background Checks
Social media checks represent an alluring temptation for employers—a seemingly simple and easy way to avoid hiring someone who could damage your brand in the public sphere. However, there are good reasons why some locales have banned this practice. Consider how easy it is to stumble upon prejudicial information on someone's personal social page: their relationships, background, and political views are often on display.
Sorting through all the noise to find enough evidence to deny an applicant is not worth the risk of facing real allegations of discrimination based on what you encounter on a user's page. While criminal background checks can provide concrete facts for your consideration, exploring social media is a maze of potential problems—and if your applicant is savvy, you won't find anything anyway. For now, employers should remain wary of relying on social media in the hiring process.
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