Social Media Background Checks – An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Posted · Add Comment

As we discussed in “The Perfect Background Check – More Than the Sum of its Parts,” there are numerous components of a background check that comprise a thorough look at a job candidate’s numerous facets. Most only reveal a single perspective.

For example, fingerprinting can offer vital data needed to confirm arrest records, but it doesn’t expose information about a candidate’s job experience. Reference and education background checks are vital to substantiate schooling and pertinent job experience but say nothing about a candidate’s employment eligibility; an I-9 verification does, but that’s all it does. In fact, many of the most often-practiced background checks don’t profile a candidate’s personality or character.

But a careful review of a candidate’s social media presence may.

Social Media Searches Can Offer a More Holistic View of a Candidate

Taking a look at a person’s tweets, Facebook posts, LinkedIn profile, and other social media activity may be helpful in identifying job-relevant behavior that other background checks cannot. Some behavior that may be revealed on a candidate’s social media pages may be deemed as toxic in a work environment by a prospective employer. It could be their intolerance of certain ethnicities or religions or sexual preferences. It could be a radical, even violent political stance. It could be any number of views or attitudes that could negatively impact the workplace.

And such information may be particularly important to specific industries or jobs. An employer involved in public transportation may not be comfortable with a candidate whose posts advocate the use of illegal drugs and excessive alcohol use. A law firm would be sensitive to posts from a candidate who brags about having committed crimes or otherwise advocates breaking laws. A medical provider may wish to avoid hiring a person who stridently opposes vaccinations and other medical procedures.

Toxic behavior can seriously hurt any organization. In a study conducted by Cornerstone OnDemand[1], just one toxic individual on a team of 20 people — a mere 5% of the total group — can lower productivity by as much as 40%, and make employees on that team 54% more likely to leave. Indeed, one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.

And it can have a powerful impact on the employer’s bottom line. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the cost of making a bad hire can be as much as $240,000 (including indirect costs such as lowered productivity, lost time to recruiting and training, and impacts on employee morale).

Imagine what would happen if the media finds an offensive tweet made by a C-level exec of a large corporation. Inflammatory posts can — and have — cost companies dearly in terms of revenue and reputation.

Types of Social Media Behavior and Attitudes that Should Ring an Alarm

Here are a few behaviors that, if made by a candidate on social media, could indicate their potential to breed workplace toxicity:

  • Crime: Posts (and these include memes, photos, cartoons, articles from legitimate sources) that may indicate the candidate was involved in a crime or supports crimes committed by another person or persons
  • Violence: Posts that may support or incite violence
  • Prejudice: Posts that may contain racism, sexism, homophobia, racial slurs, stereotypes, or other forms of intolerance and hate speech
  • Sexism: Posts that may indicate prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination on the basis of sex or gender
  • Illicit Drugs or Substances: Posts that may promote illegal drugs or the practice of using illegal drugs/abusing prescriptions

The Concerns

Tread carefully when considering scrutinizing a candidate’s public profile on social media. When an employer peruses a candidate’s Facebook page in the earliest stages of the candidacy process, for example, the individual’s race, gender, age, political and religious views, and other personal information may become immediately apparent. Of course under federal, state and some local laws, such information cannot be used to make an employment-based decision. Even so, if the candidate is not hired, they could challenge the decision, arguing bias introduced by the employer’s use of personal information obtained during the examination of the individual’s social media profiles.

Note: sites such as LinkedIn may notify its members when their profile has been viewed and by whom.

And remember, that many states and local jurisdictions have passed laws that regulate or restrict an employer’s access to a candidate’s social media profiles.

As we’ll see below, new advances in systems that employ automated processes with human oversight can facilitate social media background checks while carefully abiding by applicable standards and practices.

DIY or Leave it to the Pros?

As mentioned above, if the review is done properly and in compliance applicable laws, social media can reveal a lot of valuable information about a candidate. Some companies may decide to conduct their own research.

Has your company defined a policy concerning social media/internet searches on job candidates, and has it been reviewed by a law firm conversant with applicable laws? If not, doing so would be a prudent move.

Even if you’re doing your search by the book, the process may take a great deal of time as well as require the services of an individual who not only knows what to ignore, what to look out for, and when in the hiring process to conduct such a search. That’s a lot to ask for.

The Value of Automated Processes

Automated social media checks conducted by reputable third parties are now incorporating advanced automated processes with human oversight that help ensure legal compliance and the accumulation of useful information in terms of:

  • Liability

Such a system can apply a consistent and documentable set of criteria to the check. Strictly manual checks may be inconsistent and even biased, violating equal employment opportunity protected class requirements.

  • Efficiency

An automated background check with human oversight can review many thousands of social media posts in a fraction of the time that a manual review takes, escalating only critical cases for manual review (based on employer’s criteria).

  • Accuracy

Manual-only reviews may be prone to error, and critical information may be missed when volume is high. As noted, misidentifications may occur. Automated processes with human oversight help ensure greater identification accuracy.


An automated process with human oversight that reviews a candidate’s profile on social media and other internet-based media may reveal pertinent information about a job candidate. Remember that the information gathered and the decisions made based on that information can reasonably be connected to an adverse employment action. The information posted and upon which you base your decision must be directly related to the candidate’s ability to effectively perform the requirements of the job.

Keep in mind these best practices:

  • Understand relevant employment law and possible Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) compliance requirements when engaging third-parties
  • Ensure only publically available profiles and posts are accessed.
  • Be aware of what criteria will be used for flagging potentially adverse information
  • Know how to properly and effectively use that data

[1] Cornerstone Report Details Effects of Toxic Employees in the Workplace


Lewis Lustman

Lewis Lustman is a content marketer who enjoys developing materials that engage, inform, challenge, and hopefully entertain my audience. Lewis is a former journalist for Los Angeles Magazine and the Los Angeles Times, and has worked for a number of leading advertising, marketing, technology, and PR firms over the years. Interested in a topic that he hasn't yet tackled? Drop him a line in the comments section!

More Posts

Follow Me:



Comments are closed.