August 16th, 2017 | Debbie Lamb, Sterling Talent Solutions

Social Media Screening: Compliance Risks vs. Employer Rewards

There is no way around it; we live in a social media world. It has come to a point where the first thing that people do after they wake up is check their social media accounts, and they are then connected throughout the entire day. According to We Are Social, the number of active internet users in the US is 286.9 million, while the number of active social media users is 214 million, and 190 million of these people engage with social media via mobile devices. The top four most popular social platforms in the US are Facebook and YouTube, tied at 72%, Twitter in third place with 39% and Instagram at 38%.

According to The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), in the US, 56% of recruiters say some of their best candidates are sourced via social media, while 60% of recruiters use social media to vet candidates, pre-interview. 49% of employers said they rejected a candidate based on content found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn profiles.

In our latest webinar, “Social Media Background Screening: Compliance Risks vs. Employer Rewards,” Sterling discussed what social media screening is and why it is a valuable part of the background screening process. Bianca Lager, President of Social Intelligence, and Joe Rotondo, Sterling Vice President of Compliance shared insights to the compliance risks, employer rewards and importance of social media screening.

Why is Social Media so Valuable for HR?

Social media screening is very valuable to recruiters, hiring managers and employers. It humanizes the candidate and makes them more than just the words on their resume. Social media profiles can be very revealing with both positive and negative content being shared in what is a very public domain. As shown in the statistics above, employers are carrying out social media screening to vet candidates, but not everyone is comfortable with processing these checks. Attendees of the webinar were asked: “From a legal perspective, how do you feel about screening a candidate’s social media profiles?” The majority (60.8%) of webinar attendees were “a little nervous” about running social media checks.

The poll results are representative of the overall worries of social media screening. There is so much content on social media profiles that can influence a hiring manager, but not all of this content will relate to a candidate’s work experience. The content on social media profiles can share a lot of distracting information, but it can also give a unique insight into a job candidate. Some information can be applied to a hiring decision, while other cannot. Our webinar goes into more detail on which characteristics found in social media profiles must not be used to make a hiring decision. Employers must remain compliant and take great care when exposed to information about a candidate’s private life.

What is Social Media Screening?

What is social media screening? It is “the process of capturing any activity on the internet relating to your candidate that is potentially incriminating.” Vetting social media profiles can provide unique insight into a candidate and may reveal potentially unlawful, violent, racist, intolerant and sexually explicit behaviors that would not show up during the interview process. Another consideration with regards to social media screening is when to perform the checks. Social media searches should be carried out as late in the recruitment process as reasonably practical. A key point to remember is that a candidate must be informed if a social media or other online source is used to research information that could affect their application.

It is highly recommended to use a third-party screening company for social media searches. A third party social screening solution will only focus on the relevant information that relates to the job and workplace safety. Whereas a hiring manager could look at a social media profile and unconsciously (or consciously) make a hiring decision based on looks or post types. There is a fine line between being compliant and looking at information about a candidate’s personal life from their social media profiles. “Protected characteristics” such as age, disability, gender identity, marital status, race, religious beliefs, sex or sexual orientation, which can be easily seen on social media profiles, cannot be considered by employers during the hiring process.

How do outsourced social media checks work? Third parties adapt their searches to only use information that applies to the job. Sterling offers two types of social media screening: Character or Reputation searches. A Character Search will look for negative behaviors that are publically available, user-generated content. A Reputation Search provides a 360-degree view of a candidate’s reputation and includes user-generated content, both positive and negative, to get more of a “sense” of the candidate.

Who to Include in Your Social Media Screening?

What type of candidates should you include in social media screening? Everyone! Millennials are not just the only ones using social media today. According to a Pew Internet Study reported in the NY Daily News, 60% of 50-64-year-olds and 43% of those over 65 now use Facebook. All industry sectors and job roles should also be included in social media screening.

Social Media Screening Compliance

A hiring manager, employer or HR manager must be compliant with Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) when performing social media searches. A DIY approach to social media screening increases a company’s liability. A third party provider will help a company mitigate their risks. Below are a few considerations for a social media screening:

  • Candidates must be informed if a social media or other online source is used to research information that could affect their application
  • Hiring decisions should be targeted on finding important information relevant to the decision to offer employment
  • Social media searches should be carried out as late in the recruitment process as reasonably practical
  • Only public social media profiles can be searched. There have been new laws created preventing employers from asking a candidate for social media passwords or to “friend” them to see their profiles.

With social media screening becoming more prevalent in the hiring process, it is very important that employers develop a clear policy towards the use of social media for recruitment purposes. Companies should have a background screening policy in place to help document compliance and the hiring process. There are risks and rewards for a company that performs social media screening, find out what these are and much more in the On Demand version of the very informative webinar.

Please note: Sterling is not a law firm. The material available in this publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We encourage you to consult with your legal counsel to obtain a legal opinion specific to your needs.

Sterling is not a law firm. 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.