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Are Social Media Background Checks Popular During COVID-19?

By Michael Klazema on 6/23/2020

The COVID-19 pandemic briefly caused delays in many background checks, from county criminal history screenings to employment and education verifications. Those delays stemmed from closures of courthouses, businesses, and college and university offices. Coupled with the increasing prevalence of remote work, these vetting delays have led to a spike in the use of social media background checks for hiring and job-related purposes.

How different are social media background checks than they were before the pandemic, and what could the implications be for employers, employees, and job seekers?

It is vital to understand why social media background checks became popular in the first place. Employers adopted these employee and candidate screenings early on in the social networking days, as platforms such as Myspace and Facebook took people’s personal lives online for the first time.

Employers were drawn to the opportunity to see how candidates or staff members conducted themselves outside of work when they thought that no one was looking. Rants about bosses or supervisors; racist, misogynist, profane, or otherwise offensive or derogatory comments; posts about drugs or other criminal activity—these types of content became red flags that employers were as eager to learn about as criminal history or lies on a resume.

Social media background checks have seen an uptick over the past several months for several reasons:

  • They are a temporary stand-in for delayed background checks. During the pandemic, when other background checks have been more difficult to process in a timely fashion, social media background checks have appeared even more beneficial to employers as a quick fix. County courthouses may have had to close because of COVID-19, but social networks were still operating at full speed.

  • There is growing interest in online demeanor and rapport. As businesses have shifted online and moved to digital communication and collaboration tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Slack, hiring managers have become more interested in learning how employees or candidates interact online. Social media sites are the natural places to find that information.
  • Employers want to monitor what their workers are doing. With employees working from home, away from their supervisors or workplace web filters, some employers see social media as a way to keep tabs on how employees spend their time.
  • The Black Lives Matter movement has changed the game. Not only has the country been contending with the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is also having a historic conversation about racism and police brutality. The Black Lives Matter movement has gathered new momentum in recent months, sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. In addition to inspiring protests across the nation, the incident has caused a huge debate about how to discuss, handle, and fight racism in America. That debate has largely been fought on social media, and more than a few people have lost their jobs after posting statements that were viewed as incendiary, problematic, violent, or racist.

Employers are paying attention to what their employees (both existing and prospective) are doing on social media, but the risks of social media background checks remain. COVID-19 has not erased the issues with privacy violations, false positives, and legal violations that have plagued employment-related social media checks from the start. When looking at a candidate’s Facebook page, for instance, hiring managers still risk discovering information—such as details about sexual orientation, gender identity, political affiliation, or religion—that may lead to conscious or unconscious discrimination in the hiring process.

At backgroundchecks.com, we have always urged our clients to steer clear of social media checks and focus on verified and trusted employee background checks. Check out what we have to offer by browsing our products page.


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