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March 25, 2021

When Social Media Screening Works...and When It Doesn't

Employers are increasingly turning to social media profiles to screen their job candidates. And why not? If the individual shares posts, tweets, and photos of themselves, why shouldn’t hiring managers tap into those to build a clearer picture and form opinions about them during the hiring process?

Applicants may share information on their favorite social media channel that would valuable for a company to know BEFORE they hire them.

However, with social media screening comes responsibility. It’s not compliant to haphazardly scroll through profiles and make judgments. Before HR decides to incorporate social media searches into their background screening process, they need to understand when such screening works…and when it doesn’t.

When It Works… When a proper plan is in place.

Companies that want to use information found on social media sites during their applicant screening process need to implement a plan for using social media screening the same way other, more traditional methods of background screening tools are used. Document a list of the sites you screen, the information you search for, and how it is weighed into the hiring decision. For example, if Snapchat is not normally used for screening, don’t use it only for younger candidates. 

When It Doesn’t…When employers ask for private passwords, or “friend” an applicant.

Never ask for an applicant’s social media passwords, or friend or connect with them to gain access to more information. Doing this is an invasion of privacy and is not a compliant way to screen your applicants.

When It Works…An applicant authorizes their social media to be screened.

Talk to the applicant in advance and tell them they will be the subject of a background check that will include their social media profiles. Ask them, as you would with any background check, to sign an authorization agreeing to be the subject of a background screening report. 

Watch our social media screening video!


When It Doesn’t…When a company employee peaks at social media on the lowdown.

Looking at a candidate’s social media profiles without telling them can put you in a boatload of trouble. It’s unethical and unfair. You may see protected class information, or you might be viewing profiles that aren’t even theirs! Sneaking a look is not good business.

When It Works…A reputable screening company blocks potentially discriminatory information.

Third-party vendors can mask any information that hiring managers should not see (regarding age, race, religion, and other protected class information), which maintains compliance with EEOC regulations. A third-party screener helps reduce the chances of dealing with a discrimination lawsuit.

When It Doesn’t…Companies only look at social media profiles when they don’t get a good feeling from the candidate.

It the applicant has too many tattoos for your liking, or just gives you a bad gut feeling, it’s NOT okay to put that individual through more screening than a clean cut person you vibe well with. Background screening processes need to be uniform to maintain compliance and provide a fair chance for all job applicants. Don’t surf through some people’s social media and not look at other’s.

When It Works…Employers treat the information they find like any other background check.

Adhering to adverse action procedures is as essential with social media screening as any other background report you use to make your hiring decision. If you decide not to hire someone based on information found on their social media profiles, send a notice of pre-adverse action, and then 5-7 business days later, follow up with a notice of final adverse action. This gives the applicant a chance to dispute the information if it was uncovered in error. 

When It Doesn’t…When It’s Used by Itself

Social media screening can be a valuable tool as part of a background screening process. But it should never take the place of other background check reports like criminal records searches, employment verifications, or drug screening. Social media profiles might offer up helpful insight into the candidate’s history and fit within the company culture, but it won’t paint a complete picture by itself. HR professionals should plan on using it in addition to, not in place of, regular background screening. 

Bottom Line: Employers need to consider their options before jumping on Facebook and Intagram or scouring Twitter for information on their newest job candidate. If your company is going to use social media to screen applicants, put a written process in place and use a third-party vendor to help maintain compliance.

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