Of course, other background checks may also be a judgment call. When an employer or staffing group is recruiting candidates, minor criminal records may not necessarily mitigate a candidate's performance or his ability to behave himself on the job. The previous criminal record, if not too overwhelming, may relate to youthful folly or love gone wrong. It may relate to the one mistake he made in his life and has since cleaned up his act. He is now the reputable citizen, has worked hard for a fair number of years, and is a productive person. In fact, we get calls from worried candidates who did something stupid in their youth, never did anything wrong again, and want to know if some ancient criminal record would hurt them.
With social media, while it remains a judgment call, there are certain absolutes. If a candidate is found to be bad mouthing his employer, his manager, or some of his fellow workers, this is not looked upon with favor. Who wants to hire someone who will not only cast aspersion on the company and its managers, but may be more the type to divulge far too many company secrets. A few drinks at happy hour, and you never know what may come out of his mouth. It's crazy enough when times are good and there are many job openings. but when the economy is down and the job market it tight, this is probably the last guy you need in the workforce.
On social media sites, there is talk about drugs, alcohol, not the rubbing kind, wild parties--sex. Some companies may find such off-work practices to be disconcerting and prove an uncomfortable fit. Some may not care as long as the employee shows up clean and sober, smelling good, and with his attention to his work duties. And then there is the puzzling issues where the employment candidate may be more sober and reputable than his friends. You take something like Facebook where candidates could have up to 5,000 Facebook friends, and there are bound to be some who are less than stellar. It is, after all, a social media, and the more social inclined may tend to air it out more.
I have run social media checks where the candidate was reported to have strong values and notable religious convictions. These candidates are potential spokes people, candidates for corporations who cannot risk selecting someone to represent the company only to find the person has appeared in any variety of compromising positions that were photographed either professional and deliberately or by a now disgruntled lover who is compelled to post them on social media and Internet site. For the most part, and with some exception, those with strong social values tend to hang with others of similar values. Very few retain rascals on their social media sites for brief recreational breaks from their normal behavior.
In these situations, it pays to run the full social media background check. You are not merely hiring someone for a job. You are hiring someone as a symbol, someone who puts a face on your company. Depending on your clients and consumers, especially, it is no joke if it is later discovered your spokes person went the "Marilyn Chambers" route. It may advance the spokes person's career. Some have gotten far with it. Guest appearances, books, movie roles...amazing. But the company that first hired her looks foolish.
Other than the obvious, social media background checks can prove a tough call. As noted before, negatives in one industry and be attributes in others, like sports and entertainment. Things that matter to more conservative companies may mean a lot less to the more free form employers. But then, for the most part, the more free form employers probably won't be conducting social media searches in the first place.
In the end, you can make a mistake if you take someone's antics more seriously than perhaps they deserve. I would note Steve Jobs and the recently declassified FBI report on him. The FBI file described him as one with questionable morals, who did illegal drugs, who had exhibited eccentric behavior. He was not always at his best with his staff or employees. He was portrayed as narcissistic and shallow. He could squabble over nothing and carry grudges. But in the end he developed and promoted one of the most successful companies in the world. A failure for sure.
So, if given the opportunity, don't allow another Steve Jobs to slip through your fingers because of something he said on his Facebook. Which reminds me...Mark Zuckerman, a dropout. Another failure for sure.