The Hidden Dangers of Social Media Background Screening

You're in the hiring business, so you've probably heard of social media screening by now as the latest method to get a more complete picture of your employment candidate's before hiring them. Basically, it's when someone looks through your candidate's online presence and identifies potentially problematic business-related behavior in their publicly available content.

Your lawyer has heard of it— they've probably given you a vague warning like this one. Maybe they tried to scare you out of it completely, like this. Amidst every warning though, there is a similar refrain, "It's just too risky."

Well, whether your lawyer likes it or not, social media screening is here to stay and the majority of companies in America are doing it one way or another. But is it actually helpful to employers? Is it cost-effective? What are these multitudinous risks your lawyer speaks of? Let's take a closer look at some of the top concerns as well as a few hidden dangers that may deter employers from utilizing more modern screening practices.


Risk of Discrimination Lawsuits

When performing social media screening manually, hiring managers (or their internal HR counterparts) are at risk of making biased decisions when—not if— they come across protected class information such as race, class, gender expression, religion, etc. Not only is it unethical to make decisions off of protected class information, it’s illegal and it leaves your company liable for discrimination lawsuits. Unless they comply with FCRA standards, which means removing internal stakeholders from the process and outsourcing to a third party, an HR department is actually doing itself a disservice by handling social media screening themselves. This leads us to the next point...


It's Expensive and Time Consuming for HR Teams

Your HR generalist does not have time to screen all five of your top candidates for each position you need to fill this quarter, it’s just not cost effective. It’s pretty simple math: if an HR generalist makes $18-25 an hour and manually spends 3-4 hours falling down the social media rabbit hole in order to sufficiently cover her bases, that’s $54-100 lost on a single candidate. You’re smart— you have no business spending that much money on someone you may or may not hire, and your HR employees have much more important things to handle than scrolling through someone else’s public Facebook posts.

Social media screening is a waste of time UNLESS you hire a third-party screener equipped with software and fully-trained analysts to churn out reports faster and much more cost-effectively than more traditional forms of screening. The average turnaround time for Social Media Hiring Reports compiled by Social Intelligence is 24 business hours, and costs about half as much as doing it in-house.

 RELATED READING: Why Risk Managers Should Focus On Company Hiring Practices

Company Cultural Impact: Violation of Personal Freedoms

Some employers don't want to touch social media screening with a ten foot pole because they are concerned that they will be perceived as a "big brother" company that wants to infringe on the personal freedoms of their employees. Even if it's a slightly stereotyped concern, the perception of an HR team having that much oversight could potentially destroy company morale and scare away prospective talent from applying in the first place. Nobody wants to think about Brent from HR creeping on their profiles (don’t be creepy, Brent).

Instead, hiring a compliant third-party screener takes the "burden of knowledge" off of your HR team and reports back only what’s relevant (i.e. business related concerns like racism, violence, and homophobia). You’ll flip the narrative with your employees both prospective and current.

Think of it this way: if a prospective employee has consented to a social screen with the full knowledge of their rights under the FCRA and EEOC (class information is redacted, only problematic content is flagged, right to adverse action, etc), then they can rest in the knowledge that—if they’re a good fit— they’re entering a company culture that values open-minded and non-discriminatory individuals. That’s both a relief to the right kind of employee and an incentive to do even better. Fewer closed-minded “difficult” types, less bickering, more productivity. There! You’ve already created a better company culture before even writing an offer letter. It’s a win for everyone.


The Most Dangerous Threat of Them All

Even among all the things we've listed so far, the worst hidden danger of social media screening is the risk of ignoring it altogether.

That bears repeating: the most dangerous aspect of social media in employment decisions is pretending that it doesn't exist. Firstly, it would be a terrible waste of free resources to throw away publicly available and credible data because you're concerned your candidates will think you're... doing your homework too well? Second, people are misbehaving all over the internet whether you're looking at it or not, and turning a blind eye does nothing to help your company's case if a negligent hiring suit ever made it to light.

Responsible, well-informed employees understand that what they publicly post on the internet is there to stay, for better or worse. In fact, it’s actually a greater threat to their own workplace safety, culture and productivity for you to ignore FCRA-sanctioned social media screening in favor of less modern screening methods.

Employees and employers alike need to know that social media screening is actually there to protect them from problematic coworkers, not to scare them into making better decisions. As an employer, you juggle considerable risks when you hire people every day. When something goes wrong at the office that a simple social media screen could have prevented, you might find yourself wishing you'd listened to your lawyer a little less.


Have any questions about risk management, FCRA compliance, or the cost of social media screening? While we have an entire resource library to help you learn more, nothing beats a good ol' fashioned conversation, which we're happy to schedule here.