What HR Wants You to Know About Social Media Screening

Despite being around for over a decade, the social media screening industry still carries negative connotations for candidates and even employers for various reasons. That said, today 70% of hiring decision-makers say that employers should screen all of an applicant’s social media profiles. As more companies adopt social media screening as a standard hiring practice, many preconceived notions and misconceptions tend to pop up from the candidate’s perspective. Below are six myths about social media screening and what your HR Manager wants you to know about them.

Myth #1: Social media screening is an invasion of privacy.

The goal of a social media report is to highlight potential workplace safety concerns including content that may be harmful or intolerant to other employees, workplace morale, or brand image. Types of content typically include violence, intolerance (racism, homophobia, etc), potentially illegal activity, and sexually explicit material.

On top of that, an employer must ask for consent to run a social media report--just like they would any other background check, so the candidate is fully aware of what is going to occur. Additionally, social media checks are limited to publicly available content, which means that privacy is up to the candidate.

Myth #2: Companies can force candidates to give up their account passwords.

This is what we would call an invasion of privacy! Demanding that candidates hand over their usernames and passwords is illegal in the majority of US states and may also violate federal laws. However, when in doubt, consult a lawyer.

Myth #3: Social media screening companies hack into people's accounts.

Sometimes we can’t believe this rumor is still out there. Hacking into anyone’s account is highly illegal! Social media screening companies are limited by law (and well, ethics) to viewing publicly available information. Individuals worried about privacy always have the option of making their accounts private.

However, simply because a screening company is limited to public information doesn’t mean that problematic information on private accounts can’t cause problems at work somewhere down the line. Whether their accounts are public or private, individuals in the workforce broadly may benefit from practicing social media hygiene as well as looking into their company’s social media policies.


Want to learn more about the Social Intelligence Report?


Myth #4: HR departments should do all social media screening in-house.

The role of a good HR department is to advocate for and protect employees from discrimination. Naturally, this should extend to the hiring process: HR departments are responsible for ensuring that hiring decisions are made with the least amount of bias possible. Performing an in-house screening might reveal all kinds of protected class identities such as sexual orientation, political affiliation, religion, or ethnicity. This type of informal screening carries considerable risk. If not properly redacted, protected class information viewed at this stage may open up a company to discrimination lawsuits if the candidate doesn’t end up getting hired.

Myth #5: Social media screening is limited to major platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

The term “social media screening” can be a bit of a misnomer. Depending on the company and product, social media screening can involve screening the entire web. While the majority of candidates’ online presence may only involve social media, a Social Intel Hiring Report takes a look at a candidate’s entire online presence, giving the employer a broad overview that exceeds the scope of major platforms.

Myth #6: A candidate will be automatically disqualified if negative material is found on their report.

A social media screening report from a third party will never make recommendations about whether to hire a candidate or not. Adjudication protocol is always determined by the employer and can have a wide range of solutions to deal with any red flags that may pop up on a report.

We like to encourage our clients to develop a nuanced adjudication process that works for their needs. A red flag on a report doesn’t necessarily mean an employer has to revert to adverse action. Human beings are complex, and context is often required to understand where they’re coming from. Rather than disqualify a candidate immediately, employers might use this opportunity to have “teachable moments” to bring candidates into deeper alignment with company values and code of conduct.

At the end of the day, a social media report is simply another tool for employers to make better informed hiring decisions. By having more conversations upfront, a social media report could save both the employer and employee trouble down the road.

For more information on how social media screening might benefit your organization, check out our library of resources here.