Some Schools Look at Social Media During Hiring. Should They?

Schools face one of the most challenging jobs in society — to provide a safe place for hundreds or thousands of children that fosters learning and growth. With so many elements to keep track of, it can be a challenge even for well-funded school districts to do everything expected of them. However, safety is the one area where no amount of compromise is acceptable.

Protecting children on school grounds starts with a smart hiring process. Although no background check can predict how someone will behave in the future, it can raise red flags at a key juncture to keep unsuitable individuals out of positions of authority. A criminal background check, sex offender registry search, and an extensive interview process are not uncommon things to experience when applying to work at a school. Even volunteers must undergo screening.

Some schools have recently chosen to go even farther with teacher background checks — looking directly at a candidate's online social media presence. In South Carolina's Charleston County, the school district recently partnered with a third-party provider to run "artificially intelligent" social media background checks. The service allegedly scans an individual's profile and looks for the presence of several kinds of potentially objectionable or harmful content.

Social media background checks are nothing new, but there are good reasons why they aren't more widespread: they are often highly unreliable, and many applicants consider them an invasion of privacy. Applicants must consent to the Charleston district's proposed social media check, but if they decline to give consent, the job interview process comes to an immediate end. Thus, submitting one's online presence to scrutiny will be an obligation when the system has been fully implemented.

Social media checks are risky without serious safeguards in place. Not only is there great potential for both false positive and false negatives, but many social profiles are a place of personal expression. A school or business could inadvertently make a discriminatory hiring decision on information turned up in such a check. For these reasons, some states have already banned social media background screening. 

Interestingly, the HR director for the school district ruled out the idea of using continuous criminal background monitoring on current employees. While they use such a service during the application and interview process, the director said that "random searches on employees" were out of the question. 

Continuous monitoring services raise a red flag to businesses and organizations when one of their employees enters the criminal justice system, such as could happen following an arrest. Many organizations view continuous monitoring as a critical guardrail.

Schools operate in a challenging environment where it makes sense to use every possible tool to create a safer space for children to learn. However, social media checks are fraught with problems — and so too are current "AI" applications in this space. It remains to be seen where Charleston will find success or additional issues by turning to social media for screening.

Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

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

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