Social Media, privacy and employment background checking

There are several dimensions to the question of privacy and how it plays into background checking (and I may talk about some of them in future blog posts) but here I want to address the issue of what I call the “always there” trend. The trend itself is not all that new. Since the invention of email and laptops employees and managers have felt an increasing obligation to always be available for work: Nothing new there. The new part comes when you start to look at the opposite side of the equation. How much does our “social life” blur with our work life? The huge rise in social media has lead to the situation where an increasing number of us are “always there” for our friends and family who want to Tweet Us, Friend Us, Tube Us or whatever else may be the latest social media trend. We are connected to social media the entire waking day (and some don’t seem to sleep much either). And the trend increases rapidly .  While a lot has been written about how the lines have blurred between work and home, very little has been said about the fact that the reverse is now truer than ever: the lines between home (our social media connections) and work have blurred. Keeping track of the kids, catching up with old school mates, seeing what past colleagues are doing – it’s all in a day’s work.


With this blurring of lines – where lies the distinction between what employers should know about your “social media life” and what belongs only to you? Do companies have a right to assess some aspects of an employee’s social network “footprint” when they are conducting a pre employment screening or an employee background check? Can employees make the case that they should be allowed to have access to Facebook, linked In, YouTube etc. but companies don’t have the right to know what they are doing on these sites? Let me be clear – I am a strong believer that companies don’t need to meddle in the personal life of their employees – they should focus on things like performance, productivity, and effectiveness, and leave the personal stuff alone.  But I also believe that what we do in the new world enabled by social media (by the way, I hate that term, since social media is so much more than social) has a great deal of relevance to who we are as employees. The “footprint” we leave says a lot about who we are. If you believe a person’s previous employment, hobbies, outside activities, volunteerism are all areas that effect how well a person will fit into your organization, then why not also asses what they do on social media. I, for one, hope companies do look at my social media profile. I think it only helps define who I am. Background checking needs to get on board with the social media trend and find ways that protect privacy, but add value to the pre employment screening data set. I am no longer defined by my job – I am defined by my Linked In profile – so get on board and tweet me!

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