May 16, 2016

The Feds, Football, and Social Media Screening

Just last week, the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, announced that the federal government would begin analyzing the publicly available social media of all applicants seeking a security clearance. This official directive to require social media screening is outlined in a specific policy that was released Friday.

This news is exciting to us for a couple reasons. For one, it should attract some of the country’s brightest scientists, engineers and technologists to solving the very difficult problem of automated social media analysis. The lure of hefty government contracts should draw more players into the space, increasing competition in the marketplace. We view that as a good thing – competition drives innovation which means more value for our clients at a lower cost.

But this news is exciting for another reason. It represents one of the first, large-scale formal policies for this sort of people analysis.

Here’s why this is so important:

Most businesses perform some type of social media screening before hiring someone, and most of those companies do that analysis by hand. Take a look at the GM of the Baltimore Ravens. ESPN put out a story earlier this month detailing how the Ravens GM analyzes the online identities of every single player the Ravens consider. And he prints out the tweets.

Beyond the challenges of finding the right person online, or the time it takes to print out and comb through a few thousand tweets, these manual checks present one major issue. They don’t involve the candidate.

Informal policies mean that these searches happen behind closed doors, and as such, candidates typically never know these searches are being performed. That leads employers to make bad decisions.

Employers who do not get a candidate’s consent may never know if a person was joking when they tweeted that offensive comment, or if they had a momentary lapse of judgment when they liked that bigoted photo. That’s a big problem. As pioneers in the space, we’ve seen how subjective some of this social media data can be, and how important it is to involved the candidate in the conversation. Formal policies require candidate consent, and thus create a two-way dialog.

We’re guessing that the government setting this precedent will alleviate private sector concerns about formalizing these policies themselves. This means being FCRA-compliant and involving the candidate in every decision – including granting them the right to challenge any information compiled about them by a third party.

We are interested to see how our prediction plays out, and how long the Ravens will keep wasting paper on printed tweets and overpaid QBs!

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