Organizational Wellness

How to Conduct a Social Media Background Check

Sep 26, 2023
Last Updated Sep 26, 2023

There are 4.9 billion social media users around the world today. So most likely, the people you’re interviewing for jobs will be active on some type of social media—even if that’s just LinkedIn. Social media is a lot of things, but it’s also a way for you to gain some insight into who you might be hiring to work at your company. That’s why social media background checks are a growing part of the talent acquisition process. 

Social media background checks are a way for you to see beyond someone’s resume and potentially get insight into their personality. But before you dive in, there are legal and ethical considerations, as well as best practices to consider. 

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What Is a Social Media Background Check?

Let’s start with the basics: what is a social media background check? A social media background check is any practice of looking through an applicant’s social media content and activity to try and determine whether someone is a good fit for the company. Some companies will just do a quick scan of public profile pages, while others do more in-depth looks at blog content, comments on posts, and tagged photos. 

This check is essentially assessing candidates’ digital footprint. That does come with some advantages like figuring out early red flags or protecting your company’s image and reputation. These checks can also lower employee complaints and decrease turnover. That being said, you also need to take into account the need for balancing a background check and a candidate’s right to privacy. 

Legal and Ethical Considerations

To help you walk the line of what works in these checks, let’s consider some of the legal and ethical implications of social media background checks. When you perform a check, you might find protected characteristics under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). These include: 

  • Age
  • Citizenship status
  • Pregnancy or children
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender
  • Religion
  • Race

None of the above characteristics can be used to deny someone the job. It’s important to know about this risk and be prepared for what you find on the check to ensure you’re EEOC compliant. 

There’s another legal consideration here too: Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). This act prohibits you from looking through social media data that isn’t publicly available

Other risks for HR include:

  • Duplicates. Some people have common names, and you might look through the social media information of the wrong person. This could result in you making a hiring decision based on incorrect information.
  • Candidate concerns. Some candidates might feel like your company doesn’t trust them or that they’re being censored in their private lives. It’s helpful to explain to candidates the concept of positive screening where you’re looking to see if they’d be a good fit (more on that later). 

Steps in Conducting a Social Media Background Check

There is no one way to check the social media platforms of a candidate, but there are common practices involved. 

Develop a Social Media Screening Policy

First up, it’s so helpful to have a social media screening policy. Having a policy provides official documentation and procedures as a reference, ensuring compliance while simplifying things . A well-structured policy helps you ensure more fairness in the screening process.  

So what should be in this policy? There are so many ways to go about it. A few best practices include:

  • Setting up guidelines for what information you are looking to gather.
  • Establishing a way to handle EEOC compliance information.
  • Setting up protocol for what to do when there are multiple potential profiles that may or may not be the candidate.

Identify Relevant Platforms and Information

Once you have your policy in place, it’s time to pick out the relevant platforms and information your checks will be looking for. Classic social media background checks look for red flags like this: 

  • Unlawful activity (drugs, underage drinking, etc.)
  • Racist or sexist comments
  • Violent or aggressive behavior (including trolling or stalking)
  • Sexually explicit material
  • Confidential information

Responsible and respectful people who you would like to hire tend to not have these characteristics pop up on these social media checks. 

Keep in mind you can also conduct a positive screening where you actively look for aspects that would indicate a candidates’ strengths and abilities. Here you’re focusing on job-related qualifications and avoiding biases during the screening process. This may look like scanning profiles for:

  • Professional achievements
  • Communication skills
  • Alignment with company values

For positive screening, you might consider looking at LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

Navigating Privacy Concerns

Social media background checks can come with privacy concerns. It’s considered best practice to communicate with your candidates about what you’re doing. Some of them might just be scared that you’re looking for reasons to eliminate them or censoring their private lives. You can help allay these fears by explaining what you are looking for and why, and that you are only looking at their public social media presence.

Integrating Screening Results into Decision-Making

After you’ve done the social media background check, it’s time to think about how to use the information you’ve gathered. This can involve:

  • Noting any red flag information. If you find something that’s highly concerning, you may want to use that information to assess if someone would cause your company future complications. 
  • Considering all the information in context. Try to remember that social media only provides a snapshot of a candidate’s life. One piece of information isn’t everything to consider about a person and how they would perform at your organization. 
  • Using the information responsibly. Do everything you can to ensure that you’re not discriminating based on protected information you found. And then make sure you’re considering the person as a whole—not just limiting them to a Facebook comment from 2013. 

Supporting Your Employees’ Wellbeing after Hiring

Social media background checks can be useful tools for you to determine who might be a good addition to your company. The hiring process is also only the beginning of how you can support your employees and their wellbeing. 

The culture of your organization starts with the recruitment and onboarding process as potential employees first interact with your brand and values. Gympass can help you nurture that organizational culture so that it prioritizes the wellbeing of your workforce with amazing benefits and wellness strategies. Talk with a wellbeing specialist to get the process started!

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References

  1. Bamboo HR. (n.d.). Social Media Background Screening. Retrieved August 30, 2023 from https://www.bamboohr.com/resources/hr-glossary/social-media-background-screening.  
  2. Cortiss, D. (2023, May 11). Keep It Clean: Social Media Screenings Gain in Popularity. Business News Daily. Retrieved August 30, 2023 from https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/2377-social-media-hiring.html.  
  3. Davies, R. (2019, April 4). Social Media Background Checks: Are You Risking a Lot for a Little?. Retrieved August 30, 2023 from https://www.softwareadvice.com/resources/social-media-background-checks/.  
  4. Indeed. (n.d.). Social Media Background Checks: Everything You Need to Know. Retrieved August 30, 2023 from https://www.indeed.com/hire/c/info/social-media-background-checks.  
  5. Ruby, D. (2023, July 26). Social Media Users In 2023 (Global Demographics). Demand Sage. Retrieved August 30, 2023 from https://www.demandsage.com/social-media-users/#:~:text=There%20are%204.9%20billion%20social,network%20penetration%20rate%20is%2059.4%25. 

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Gympass Editorial Team

The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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