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Are Social Media Background Checks on the Decline?

By Michael Klazema on 1/2/2014

For years, it has seemed as if more and more employers were turning toward social media as a means of learning more about their applicants. And indeed, social networks like Facebook have given employers windows into the lives of their prospective employees like never before. By simply directing their Internet browser to an applicant’s Facebook profile, an employer can see how an applicant lives his or her life and treats other people. They say that a picture is worth 1,000 words, and on Facebook, an album of inappropriate photos – combined with a vulgar status or two – can tell an employer everything they need to know about an applicant who doesn’t fit their image of a respectful and respectable employee.

Still, despite the possibilities that social media profiles add to the employment screening procedure, more and more employers seem to be opting out of the idea of doing a “social media background check.” In fact, it’s beginning to look as if 2014 may be the year that social media background checks almost entirely exit the picture.

There are a number of reasons for this shift: first of all, the EEOC has never been terribly comfortable with social media accounts being used for employment screening purposes. A Facebook page can give an employment manager access to information that they are not supposed to have, including an applicant’s religion, race, political affiliation, or sexual orientation. By revealing these pieces of information, social media background checks can become a tool for proliferating discrimination and hindering equal employment opportunity. By using social media for background checks, employers open themselves up to potential lawsuits for breaching EEOC anti-discrimination rules.

Secondly, numerous state governments have already put a stop to social media background checks in numerous spots around the country. In August, Oregon made sure that social media accounts were off limits for employment screening procedures. A month earlier, both Nevada and Colorado enacted similar measures to regulate or ban the use of social media background checks. It’s likely that more states will follow suit with their own legislation throughout 2014.

Finally, after years of hearing about how unprofessional social media activity could lose them a job, most job hunters have wised up and started implementing privacy measures to keep prying eyes away from their social media accounts. In many cases, employers who want to run a social media background check don’t even have the option to do so, thanks to privacy settings that lock them out of the accounts of job applicants.

All of these factors, both legal and otherwise, have led most hiring managers to shift away from using social media in employment screening. Instead, employers are opting to focus once more on traditional background checks, such as the products offered through backgroundchecks.com. From criminal searches to sex offender registry perusals, from professional and academic history verifications to drug screenings, employers can still learn plenty of information about their applicants through the classic background screening standards that have been used for years.


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