Social Media and Background Checks - Yes or No?

There have been some feisty twitter debates raging today around the ethics, legality and morality of the use of social media to conduct background checks on candidates. The debate is quite polarised.

The “anti camp” is claiming that using social media in this way is an invasion of privacy. They claim that recruitment selection decisions should only be based on professional criteria and to exclude someone from a position because of something they said on twitter or the football club they follow is fraught with legal issues. Some say that looking at a candidate’s Facebook page (if you somehow have access to it of course) is akin to snooping.

My stance on this debate is that once someone has published something about themselves, their personal views, activities etc then it is a matter of public record. If they don’t wish it to be public then they shouldn’t post it or they should set their sites’ security settings so that only those they wish to see it can see it. Once it’s public it’s public and when it’s on the web, it’s there forever. Of course it’s up to the reader to further test the veracity of the content being looked at. Just because it’s on the web doesn’t make it true!

If it is on the public record therefore, surely it’s information that can and often will be perused to gain further insight into a potential candidate. Often this information can support their application. It can also have an adverse effect. As it is on the public record, I don’t consider it “snooping”. If one was to hack private Facebook pages etc then yes…clearly that would be snooping, and illegal. If I look up someone’s home address in the white pages, is that “snooping”?

I know that many of our clients are regularly Googling potential candidates. To think this is going to “not happen” is naïve at best. Mindset as a company has also been asked by some clients to perform Social Media audits on potential candidates. All these are are lists of publicly available searched information. Sometimes the result of the audit is “nothing exists”. When this has happened, the lack of information has certainly not hindered (or supported) the candidate.

Many commercially available applicant tracking systems now also routinely spider social media sites to give users summary pages of a candidate’s social media profile. Clearly the use of social media as another tool for selection decisions is here to stay.

Marketers have been keeping records of what individuals search for and purchase for years. Often what they know about us commercially and personally pales into insignificance compared to what can be found by Google. This information is often traded and sold. I’ve seen little comments on the ethics or privacy concerns regarding this.

If candidates are concerned that their social media profile could compromise them in their job searches they should set their sites’ security settings appropriately. Another tip is to use a “clean” email address for their applications, i.e. one that isn’t linked to any of the social media sites (except perhaps LinkedIn). That way it’s harder for the ‘bots to find it.

The reality is that the information, accurate or not, is out there on the web now. It’s volume will only increase as more is added over time. To think it won’t be used by potential employers is naïve at best.

Views: 115

Comment by Kelly O'Shaughnessy on March 19, 2010 at 1:03am
Hi Aaron

Have the Peerlo opinion (well, opinionS :)) on this issue over here: Such an interesting discussion, and good to see so many different points of view.

Comment by Stephanie Bressan on April 29, 2010 at 6:14am
I think people have this perception that social media is somehow insular, I have seen funny reactions from people when it seems to dawn on them that they are judged just as much by what they write on social pages as they are in real life! Fantastic topic by the way!


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