Social Media Screening Vs. Criminal Background Checks

Traditionally, employers have used criminal background checks as a primary method of determining whether or not an applicant would be an effective addition to their workforce. With the increasing accessibility of public social information online, however, comprehensive social media screening has become a major contender for champion of the pre-hire process.

Many modern organizations have chosen to adopt both methods of screening as the most risk-averse solution to hiring new employees, but if we were to put them in cage match against each other, which screening solution would come out on top?

Let's take a look at some of the advantages and drawbacks of both.

Criminal Background Checks

Fundamentally, criminal background checks focus on a candidate's past behavioral problems. While this is mostly beneficial for employers that only want to avoid hiring someone they consider 'high risk,' criminal background checks typically fail to notice indicators of current behavior, for better or worse.

Criminal records are mostly public and easy to obtain, but notoriously difficult to verify. It's not uncommon that the wrong person is identified in criminal checks, forcing candidates to follow adverse action or even legal proceedings to prove that the record they're shown does not belong to them.

There is also a growing evidence to suggest that criminal background checks in America disparately impact minorities in a hiring decision. In an effort to promote more equitable, merits based hiring practices (or perhaps to avoid the public backlash of discrimination lawsuits) many organizations have foregone asking about criminal records in favor of screening solutions backed by more accurate and more recent data.

For a more in-depth comparison of criminal and social media background checks, read our latest guide here: [Free Guide] Social Media Screening Vs. Criminal Background Checks

Social Media Screening

Social Media Screening, unlike criminal background checks, prioritizes a candidate's current behavior online as the standard for their fitness in your company's culture. While reports cover the last 7 years like any other background check, social media screening gives you the ability to see how problematic behavior has changed over that period of time. If a candidate posted racist material back in 2011 and continues to do so in 2018, you can guess that those patterns will likely continue into the workplace.

Similarly, social media background screening alerts employers to more kinds of behavior than a criminal check does. While a criminal check is constrained only to crimes someone has been charged with, social media screening can alert hiring managers to many other forms of negligent behavior like threats of violence, discrimination, or sexual explicitness even if there is no criminal intent. It's not be a crime to be racist or sexist online, but a social media background check would flag those behaviors for a hiring manager interested in maintaining a harmonious work culture.

The biggest drawback? Many candidates don't overshare their lives publicly online, and some candidates don't have a social media presence at all. Since we know this doesn't necessarily mean someone is free from harboring negligent behaviors, those for which no negative pertinent information is found are labelled as just that-- the report doesn't say that they're guilty, but it doesn't absolve them of any future incidents either.


Time is money in all business, and the time it takes to conduct a thorough background check, whether a criminal check or social media screening, can be a significant cost to any employer. A 3rd-party screening provider can produce excellent results at a fraction of the cost, while eliminating your risk of exposure to protected class info. For more information on how social media screening works, visit or check out the Definitive Guide to Social Media Screening for more information.