COVID-19 Update: Despite court closures in many areas, Sterling is still able to complete criminal checks with minimal disruption thanks to our proprietary end-to-end automation that allows us to access court information. For additional info on how Sterling is handling the COVID-19 situation, please visit our COVID-19 page.

April 22nd, 2016 | Sterling

Social Media Checks: A Not-So-Gray Area


You’ve likely heard or read something lately discussing the use of social media in gauging whether to do business, work with, or hire someone. It’s certainly the new frontier of a person’s reputation and public persona, which might make it worth taking into consideration in your vetting process.

A social media profile presents the “real” self, typically: the unbuttoned, often unfiltered version of a person. It’s where people connect with family and friends, share their personal and political views and their comings-and-goings. As such, it is, yes, very personal.

So why should you care? Well, if you’re going to make a publicly visible hire, or enter into a relationship with someone where there will be some type of media coverage linking you to them, then their reputation is a reflection of your reputation. Like it or not, we live our lives on the Internet, so you have to make sure you want to be seen at the same virtual “table” as them.

Social media is also where things material to your decision-making process can be shared, that would otherwise never be uncovered in a routine background check. Maybe they smoked pot at a party last weekend. They didn’t get arrested for it, and they certainly didn’t tell you about this recreational habit of theirs, but they did post a photo of themselves doing it on Facebook or Instagram.

Or say you found that an individual had racist-leaning views on the world – due to articles or videos that they shared on Twitter? In our diverse and multi-cultural society, wouldn’t this be a serious hindrance in entering into relationship with them?

When we recently conducted an otherwise routine background check on the head underwriter at a fast-cash company, we found that this individual had once been an aspiring model, specializing in the more “suggestive” side of that industry. She continued to post revealing photos on her Facebook page into the present time that we were screening her, indicating that her “exhibitionist” days weren’t necessarily over.

Social media is still viewed by some as a “gray area,” but sometimes you find some very black-and-white results.

Here are some helpful considerations to keep in mind when deciding if social media background checks are in your company’s best interest.

  • Develop a social media screening policy for your organization detailing what will and will not be searched for, how the search will be conducted and by whom.
  • Do not ask candidates for their social media passwords. In addition to being illegal in a number of states, it is the quickest way to scare off a candidate.
  • Don’t believe everything you read and see online. Does it pass the eye test? If so, consider asking the candidate about it.
  • Consider assigning a two-step review process. Assign a person or team to review the search results and highlight any questionable findings. Then, have them pass the questionable findings to a person who can just review the adverse information and make a hiring determination.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.