6 Reasons to Avoid Social Media Background Checks

June 16, 2022
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Checkr Editor

here's why you shouldn't check candidates' social media.

Background checks are a vital tool in the hiring process, but just how closely can you examine a candidate? Traditional background checks focus on the criminal, educational, and professional histories of a candidate, but what about their online history? Do background checks show social media?

The short answer is no, but some hiring managers still consider running a social media background check in the pre-employment screening process. While it can be tempting to run a social media check to get a better sense of a candidate’s personality, it’s strongly advised not to do so.

Performing a background check for social media can have complicated legal consequences and potentially compromise your commitment to fair hiring. Let’s look at what social media background checks entail and why your business should avoid them at all costs.

What is a social media background check?

Simply put, performing a background check on social media is the process of combing through a candidate’s public-facing social media pages. This could include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or various other social media platforms.

Because hiring managers can potentially gain additional insights into candidates, they believe monitoring social media content (like shared posts, status updates or location check-ins on social media) can help them determine whether someone is the right fit.

However, just because the information is publicly available doesn’t mean you should use it as part of the hiring process. While social media background checks do happen, the best practices surrounding them are murky at best. By performing these checks at all, you’re opening yourself up to risk of a lawsuit. For example, you may be accused of discrimination due to violating protected characteristics like age, race, religion, disability, and nationality.

Not knowing such information in the first place protects your organization from potential lawsuits. Ultimately, the best way to keep your company safe is by not performing social media checks at all.

6 reasons to avoid social media background checks

You don’t need to scroll through a candidate’s Instagram profile to get into hot legal water—even just a quick social media check-in of their personal accounts can be problematic. While a candidate’s social media pages may reveal things you won’t find on their resume, the risk is too high and the benefits too few to be worth it.

Here are six reasons you should never run a social media background check on potential candidates.

1. False identity

There are no guarantees that the social media account you find is your candidate’s account. There are often duplicate names online, and emails cannot always be used as an identifier. Relying on names, states, and ages could reveal someone who has the same information as your candidate.

Moreover, there are billions of fake accounts online. Despite regularly disabling fake accounts, Facebook has estimated that there could still be as many as 88 million fake accounts out there. Checking a false account makes your Facebook background check worthless, takes away a candidate’s right to a fair hiring process, and puts your company at risk.

2. Inaccurate information

Assuming you have managed to find the correct profile, how do you know the information on that profile is correct? The Internet is notorious for false information that can spread unintentionally, information that can be taken out of context, or false information published through the act of “trolling.” Not to mention the prevalence of social media hacking, meaning you could be looking at posts by an unauthorized user.

There are countless stories of inaccurate information being spread across social media. Using information you cannot independently verify is an unfair hiring practice and opens you up to bias and risk in the process. The bottom line is that there’s no way to know for sure whether what you’re seeing on someone’s social media is true—or even coming from them.

3. Restricted hiring criteria

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rigorously enforces the role of protected characteristics concerning pre-employment screenings. These characteristics cannot be considered as part of a hiring decision, yet many of them can’t be missed when looking into someone’s social media background.

While this information may not be claimed outright on their social media pages, it can usually be gleaned from public posts or photos. These characteristics include:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sex (Gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy)
  • Disability
  • Genetic information
  • National origin

The problem with looking at a candidate’s social media is that once you see something on their page, you can’t unsee it. This opens a door for unconscious and conscious bias to seep into the hiring process which derails fair hiring. For example, if you come across a post about a candidate’s religion or sexual orientation on their page, this may subconsciously affect your hiring decision. Not only is that problematic for an unbiased hiring process, it can also open your company up to legal issues. The gold standard of hiring includes full EEOC compliance, so it’s best to avoid social media checks all together.

4. Social media screeners are CRAs

Because a social media background check is usually DIY, many employers believe they don’t have to worry about the FCRA.

However, you can run into problems if you use the services of a third-party social media screening service, as there is a high chance they will be using CRAs. Screeners are obligated to follow the FCRA, as are their clients.

If you opt to partner with a third-party, you must ensure you’re working with a reputable company familiar with both federal and state-level laws. If your third-party screening company fails to follow the rules, you could be liable. Ultimately, it is best to avoid social media background checks entirely.

5. State local hiring laws

Under Federal law, you are required to disclose the background checks you performed and any information used in taking adverse action (for example, denying a position of employment). Many states and local municipalities have their own hiring laws relating to cyber-vetting.

When it comes to disclosing the information used, do background checks include social media checks in the final report? Yes, you cannot keep social media background checks secret from candidates.

This opens your organization up to two potential problems:

  • Candidates can claim you were influenced by a protected characteristic within your final hiring decision.
  • They can make an FCRA claim, contesting the accuracy of the data. 

Another important note here is that the candidate will be notified not just that you looked at their social media—they’ll have access to what specific information was accessed. In some cases, this can snowball into accusations of discrimination and result in a lawsuit.

6. Bias

This is last on the list, but certainly not least. One of the biggest issues with running a social media background check is that it’s impossible not to be biased in some way by what you see on a social media account. We’re only human, and we have unconscious bias about nearly everything in our lives—whether we realize it or not.

Your goal is to create a fair and balanced pre-employment screening process. Part of forging that process is ensuring the information you seek out is based on verifiable facts, not opinions.

Many companies undergo bias and unconscious bias training to mitigate this issue. The more aware someone can be of potential biases seeping into their hiring process, the easier it becomes to identify and work through those issues to create an equitable hiring process. Performing social media background checks takes your organization back a step on the path to fair hiring. Clearly, it’s best to avoid social media background checks.

Hire faster with Checkr

Social media is here to stay, yet the hiring practices around it remain blurred. What is clear is that checks on a candidate’s social media account can introduce bias and legal risk. Companies committed to a fair and compliant hiring process must consider whether social media checks can realistically play a part in their hiring process.

While we do not recommend running social media background checks, comprehensive background checks remain an essential part of the hiring process. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, Checkr helps to ensure your company remains compliant with all applicable laws while providing fast and efficient background checks.

To learn more about our efficient and accurate background checks, contact Checkr today.

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