5 FAQs About Social Media Screening and Privacy

Photo by Satria Hutama


This past year, between political unrest and frustration arising from the global pandemic social media firings have flown through the roof. This may have some folks questioning how social media screening works and what employers are allowed to do--especially if a user’s social media is private. Here are the answers to five of the most common questions we hear in our corner of the field:

1. Can employers see my private social media? 

Nope! Social media screening is generally restricted to publicly available information. It is illegal in some states for an employer to demand social media passwords from a candidate, and it could be a violation of federal laws as well. A few states have laws against requiring candidates to include their social media handles or information. However, in some creative industries like marketing or content creation where a social media profile functions as a de facto portfolio of a creative’s work, this has become standard practice. 

2. Can I still get fired if all my social media is private?

While private social media may be helpful in preserving professional and personal boundaries, an individual can still get fired for anything that they say on social media that violates their employer’s social media policy! Remember, nothing is truly private or deleted on the internet. A private post may not be able to go viral, but screenshots still can! Think about it - how many memes containing screenshots of comment sections or posts have you seen over the past few weeks? Was all identifying information successfully blocked out? 

3. Can I be fired for my political posts?

Whether public or private, expressing a political opinion on social media is well within your first amendment rights. However, first amendment rights are designed to protect individuals from the government, not a company, so a company is still within their rights to make employment decisions based on political affiliation. This summer alone, dozens of people were fired for posting hate speech on social media.

However, something to consider that may matter more than political affiliation is the tone and language of a post used to convey political leanings. Does the post use charged language? Does it use violent language? An employer may not care about political affiliation intrinsically, but if a post involves violent imagery or hate speech it may raise red flags.

4. How do I know if my prospective employer will screen my social media?

Over 80% of companies already do some form of a social media check, so it is highly likely they will perform some sort of check in the process. In fact, a candidate’s social media presence has become somewhat of an informal authentication factor. Nearly 50% of companies are less likely to call in a candidate for an interview if they cannot find a social media presence.

However, if an employer is utilizing a social media screening service, they are required to obtain written consent. If you are curious about what kind of screenings a company is running, take a look at the language used in their consent form, and don’t be afraid to ask them for clarification! 

5. Is social media screening even legal?

Social media screening is legal under certain circumstances. For more information, check out this post about the legality of social media screening.