9 Things You Need to Do Before Screening Your Candidate's Social Media

Even though social media has been around for nearly a decade, it's still uncharted territory for a lot of companies out there. Thinking about getting a more comprehensive view of your candidates before hiring? You probably have a few questions.

Here are 9 things you should definitely think about before your hiring managers start Facebook stalking (Tip #4: Don't let them do that).


1. Establish a clear policy for social media screening.

This step is absolutely foundational. It’s imperative that you determine what you want out of a screening, such as types of information that will be pursued, when during the hiring process the search will be performed, and what information will be included in the report (e.g., screenshots of potentially damaging information. Additionally, it’s a good idea to clarify who will be screened--senior management, customer-facing employees, all employees, etc.. Will you be screening subcontractors? Full-time employees only? Whatever your preference, as long as it's legal, make a decision and follow through with it.


2. Protect the candidate’s privacy by limiting your investigation to publicly available information.

DO NOT under any circumstances, ask for social media passwords or create a false identity to “friend” a candidate in order to gain access to private information. Firstly, there are laws explicitly prohibiting this practice in almost half of the states, including California, Montana, Washington, and New Jersey. You must also consider the implications this attitude toward social screening has on a potential candidate. Would you want to work for a company that demands access to private photos, videos, and messages?

If you're already in the habit of requesting social media information that goes beyond what is publicly available (even in states where it is not yet illegal), you should take the time to course correct and re-strategize your pre-hire priorities.


3. Obtain the applicant’s written consent prior to conducting the search.

This is explicitly required by FCRA regulations. Additionally, asking for your candidate's consent establishes a measure of trust between employer and employee, which in turn lays the groundwork for transparency for both parties. If you decide to hire a candidate that you've already screened, they'll feel as confident in you as you do in them.


4. Redact all protected-class information.

Translation: make sure that the screening report does not include information that could be construed as discriminatory toward the candidate (or classes of candidates). Any legally problematic information (i.e. sexual orientation, race, national origin, gender) uncovered during the search should be scrubbed from the report before it reaches the eyes of anyone involved in the hiring decision, whether the report is done in-house or sent to you by a third party. In some cases, screening providers can remove all pictures of the candidate, as long pictures aren’t material for the screening, in an effort to get hiring manager to focus on business-related traits rather than physical or personal traits.


5. Provide candidate notification, in advance, of your intent to take “adverse action.”

After screening, if you decide not to hire an applicant, you must provide the candidate with a notice of intent to take adverse action, a copy of the Summary of Your Rights under the FCRA, and a copy of the background report itself. You can draft these letters yourself or leave them up to your legal counsel. Some screening providers make it a practice to preemptively package adverse action papers with all background reports to be used by the employer, just in case. Lastly, once a final decision has been reached (i.e. deciding not to hire the candidate in question), you must also send them a final notice of adverse action letter.

Just like any other form of pre-employment screening, your candidate has the right to dispute adverse action derived from social media screening.  When a report contains information that may be inaccurate, outdated or incomplete, the applicant has the right to dispute the record, which allows the screener to confirm the information was accurate as reported or correct the record on the report.


6. Check with legal counsel to ensure policies and procedures remain up-to-date.

Regulatory requirements can change frequently, so it’s a good idea to make sure your policies and procedures are carefully reviewed by your attorney(s), just to confirm that you are still fully compliant. This is applicable in all forms of employee background screening, not just the social media variety.


7. Dig Deep!

Social media doesn’t just mean the major platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! Relevant, legally actionable information can be discovered on blogs, forums, business listings, dating websites, even public shopping wishlists. That being said, you are still only permitted to report on the last 7 years of social media history, per FCRA regulations.


8. Make sure you have the right person.

Let’s face it, there are a lot of folks out there with the same name-- how can you be sure you have the right John Smith in New York City? To avoid any confusion, mis-profiling, and general imminent disaster, have procedures in place to verify that the accounts investigated truly belong to the applicant and not just someone with a similar name--or, even worse--someone pretending to be the applicant.

Every social media screening provider should be able to prove to you how they verified your candidate's identity, and they should have more than one source to corroborate that ID.

9. Don’t automate social media screening.

Social media screening requires a human touch. A human can tell the difference between jokingly commenting “I’m going to kill you!” on a friend’s post vs. actually making a threat. An AI-based program is less likely to understand this nuance, and without human oversight is much more likely to flag irrelevant material or miss material that is not explicit in its intent.


Taking on social media screening--and the ever-changing intricacies of FCRA compliance--can be a tricky job. Hopefully these pointers will give you a better sense of the groundwork necessary to start doing your own social screening.

DIY sound too daunting? Consider outsourcing to a social media screening service, and skip the compliance headache altogether.