Snooping vs. Screening - What’s the Difference?

Disclaimer: Please note that Social Intelligence is not a law firm. The material available in this article is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice.

Over the years, performing social media searches on prospective employees has become a common practice. However, it’s worth asking how these searches are being performed, and how HR professionals might be contributing to big brother fears that candidate privacy is being compromised. 

HR professionals have become increasingly comfortable with social media snooping--that is to say, a casual google search of an employee or an informal screening of their social media profiles. What most HR professionals don't know is that social media snooping may be putting their organizations at risk - and wasting valuable time! This type of informal search differs vastly in approach from the formal social media screening process that is becoming more widely available in the background screening market.

Confused? That’s understandable. We’ll break it down for you.

Social media privacy laws

In order to understand the difference in approaches, it’s useful to know how privacy laws have developed alongside the growth of social media platforms. Social media privacy laws have been around since 2012, just after the market started to saturate with the appearance of Instagram in 2010 into a Facebook-Tumblr-Twitter-dominated field. In the earlier days of social media, attitudes towards privacy were much different, social media etiquette was just beginning to take form, and regulation was nearly unheard of. When it became clear that some employers were incorporating social media snooping into their hiring process, several states took swift action in order to protect the privacy of the individual. Initially, this iteration of “snooping” involved requesting usernames and passwords from prospective employees, which, in retrospect, seems like a breach of privacy and blatantly unethical behavior.

According to a 2013 survey, only a small percentage of HR professionals felt comfortable incorporating an internal social media screen into their hiring process. They worried about viewing protected class information such as religion, sexual orientation, pregnancy status, etc. Recent surveys, however, demonstrate that the tide had turned in under five years. CareerBuilder’s oft-cited 2017 survey noted that over 70% of employers have incorporated some form of social media snooping into their hiring process. 

So what’s changed?

Unfortunately, attitudes towards social media screening have gotten a bit...lazy. Viewing protected class information is still a real concern, despite the change in attitudes. While HR professionals may be widely comfortable with casually googling an employee or searching for their social media profiles, they may be taking on a considerable risk for hiring discrimination. That’s the type of risk that companies should be evaluating as closely as possible, especially as DEI initiatives intensify across all sectors. 

Perhaps it’s helpful to ask: what’s the underlying motivation to snoop on a candidate’s social media? Is it proof that someone exists? Curiosity into how they’ll fit into workplace culture? A deeper look into their character? How can these questions be explored in a safe and compliant way?

An ethical solution is available 

Fortunately, an alternative to snooping has been around nearly as long as social media itself. Social media screening evolved as a third-party alternative to snooping as a safe and effective tool for HR professionals to gain deeper insight into a candidate while maintaining privacy and compliance with the FCRA. While snooping may be putting a candidate and employer at risk for hiring discrimination, social media screening removes the risk of casual google searches and instead offers a comprehensive look at a candidate’s online content without compromising their privacy. Think of it as a complementary screening tool to a traditional background check. 

A background check may be important from a legal perspective but usually lacks context and falls short of gaining current behavioral insight into a candidate. Social media screening may be able to fill in some of those gaps by screening for behavior such as intolerance or violence that is likely to pop up in the workplace and has the potential to create a toxic or hostile environment. On top of that, snooping is time-consuming. An HR professional might take several hours to do an equivalent manual search for one candidate when an AI-powered third-party screener could turn around a series of reports within two business days.

Snooping may be satisfying, but it’s likely not worth the risk. For a deeper understanding of how social media screening can protect your organization please reach out! We'd love to walk you through the basics.