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Should You Do Your Own Social Media Background Checks In 2020?

July 19, 2018


July 19, 2018

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A candidate most likely has their personal, social and even professional lives stashed away on one or more social media platforms. This is just the reality of modern life. People – often unthinkingly – post the minutest details of their lives on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and the dozens of other social media platforms.

For employers, this seems like a treasure trove. Social media seems the perfect place to begin a background check. In fact – every once in a while – stories pop up of candidate losing out on opportunities because prospective employers discovered something incriminating on their social media pages. This is becoming so ubiquitous that career guidance programs are incomplete without cautions to prospective employees to think twice before sharing something on social media.

Employers also need to take a variant of this advice. They need to think twice before checking the social media accounts of a candidate for background information. As a matter of fact, they should not do it altogether. Here’s why.

Percent Of Red Flags Found

Roughly 10% of reports come back with red flags indicating potential workplace safety issues.

A six month study helped determine what type of behavior we find most frequently on social media.

Here is a breakdown:

In addition, the study uncovered multiple reports containing multiple red flags, or adverse behaviors:

66% of flagged reports contained racist content.


56% of flagged reports contained sexual content.


29% of flagged reports contained illegal content.



25% of flagged reports contained violent content.


54% contained one behavior.


21% contained two behaviors.


16% contained three behaviors.


9% contained all four behaviors.

So what can you do and learn about this?  Read more below.

Protected Information

The law (specifically Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) prohibits discriminating against people in employment. Particularly, it outlaws discrimination on the basis of color, race, gender, religion and national origin. This makes it illegal to deny someone employment on the basis of these characteristics. According to employment law, the information on these characteristics (i.e. race, color, etc) is classified as “protected information”. Employers are barred from asking for this information during the recruitment process.

Visiting an candidate’s social media page is almost guaranteed to provide access to protected information. The pictures and posts are almost certain to reveal an candidate’s gender, race, color and so on. Just accessing this information is a breach anti-discrimination laws. If a candidate finds out and sues the employer, it becomes extremely difficult for the employer to claim that the information did not play a part in their decision making.

This is why employers need to steer clear of social media pages of a candidate. When performing a social media background check, then the best thing is to have an specialist to view the pages, black out any protected information and then pass along the information for you to view.

Privacy Violations

Most social media platforms give users some measure of privacy control over their information. This usually takes the form of restricting who has access to the information. Facebook, for instance has a private section where information is supposed to be visible only to “Friends”. Any other person who accesses this information does so illegally. There have been cases of people being tracked and sued for having unauthorized access to information on social media.

Background Screening Do’s And Don’ts For Staffing Companies (or any industry)

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A False Image

When a social media background ground check comes back squeaky-clean i.e. nothing embarrassing, unethical or illegal; does this mean that the candidate is flawless? The answer to this question is of course ‘NO’. Everybody knows that people can create multiple social media accounts – even kids do so to hoodwink their parents.

Most people who behave in questionable ways online often do so under the guise of pseudonyms. They create accounts with no relation to their actual names to conduct their nefarious activities from. Simultaneously, they often have innocent-looking accounts under their own names. Any employer who asks about their social media accounts will be directed to the innocent-looking ones.

This factor reveals the fundamental flaw in conducting social media background checks. Because people mask their identities online, the check can reveal nothing incriminating. Meanwhile, the candidate can be far from the squeaky clean individual revealed in the social media background check.

Even candidate’s whose actual accounts contain questionable content can quickly delete. By the time the employer looks, all the bad stuff is gone. Is there a way out of this? Well, most employers opt to surprise the candidate by simply Googling them or searching for them on the social media platform.

Mistaken Identities

The problem with simply running a search is the possibility of misidentifying a person. How do you know that the John Smith you’re looking at is the same one applying for a position with you? This is of course impossible in cases where there are multiple accounts with similar names. The risk of misidentifying the person, and thus making a wrong decision is quite high.

Even when the account contains personal details and pictures of the candidate, this doesn’t mean that it is owned and run by them. There have been numerous cases where nefarious people – with the sole aim of malice – have created accounts in the names of other people. These accounts are often filled with enough personal details to make them look authentic. They are then peppered with racist, misogynistic, pornographic or other kinds of content designed to make the person look bad.

Basically, even when you think you’ve hit the “jackpot” in finding an account with incriminating information about a candidate doesn’t mean the information is authentic. It could be an attempt by a malicious person.

Is There A Way Out?

The bottom line is that conducting your own social media background checks presents lots of risks. Aside from the legal concerns, there is the question of information accuracy. A remedy for dealing with the legal risks has been suggested i.e. hiring a lawyer to look through the social media profile and redact all the protected information. The only challenge is – given the way lawyers tend to charge for their services – this can be a costly undertaking.

Fortunately, there is a simpler way for dealing with both the legal and accuracy concerns. This is through hiring background checking experts to conduct the social media checks for you. Hiring an expert will get you covered legally i.e. you will not have direct access to the social media platforms and so won’t come across any protected information. Background check companies are also aware of the laws concerned and thus best placed to protect you from any legal tripwires.

Where background checking companies thrive is in getting accurate information. This is because these companies usually have the resources and expertise to conduct thorough investigations. They also usually correlate the information on social media platforms with information from other sources. This ensures that you get the most accurate complete profile of the candidate as possible.

Therefore, if you’re interested in conducting social media background checks, the safest option is to hire experts to carry them out for you. This will ensure that you get the kind of information you need to make informed hiring decisions.


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