April 3rd, 2023 | Sterling

Social media screening – approach with caution

Many employers check the social media profiles of potential new hires as part of the recruitment process, and so it is imperative that candidates tread carefully when posting comments or images that could jeopardise their chances of landing a job. But employers too must navigate this terrain with due care as there are many data and legal considerations, especially with regards to discrimination. In this article, we will highlight some of the key areas that employers need to be wary of when using social screening as part of their hiring and selection toolkit.

We’ve all read stories in the press where employees have lost their jobs because of what they have posted online. The same scenario can affect the success of a candidate’s application. So, the rise of social media screening shouldn’t come as a surprise. Indeed, the rise in its popularity was highlighted in the findings of our ‘Hiring Reimagined’ report, which revealed that over half of global HR professionals were planning to make their background screening processes more robust, with social media screening the second most in demand service they planned to add (after identity verification). 

Most candidates would expect a future employer to check out their profile on LinkedIn, the main social media platform for professionals. This is usually a safe bet as information contained on this channel is normally work related, providing hiring managers with insights about the person’s passion and knowledge for their subject. But social media screening goes beyond this and often hiring managers will check other widely used social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok etc. plus any other information that is publicly available online.

While access to profiles on these sites may be easy, conducting social media screening is not as simple as it might seem. The first thing to consider is that to conduct searches properly takes time. Automation can help and there are solutions in the marketplace that use AI to quicken the process. These tools are also cleverly programmed to minimise the risks associated with compliance so that hiring decisions are based on ability to do the job and not on ‘protected characteristics’ such as age, race, religion, gender, disability, religion, sexuality that are easy to identify on social media.

Compliance and ethics

But there are other factors to consider too. If you’re engaging with a third-party supplier, you must ensure that they are compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) in the US, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation or in the UK post-Brexit, the Data Protection Act of 2018. The important thing to note is that there are legal obligations and procedures that are specific to each country which need to be strictly followed, for example when using that information to notify the candidate of an adverse action. Otherwise, your company could face legal action.    

Whether you carry out the searches yourself or use an external screening specialist, ethical decision making is a must so that you don’t exclude anyone for the wrong reasons. And given today’s ultra-competitive labour market, companies can ill afford to do that. But what is it that your organisation considers to be problematic behaviour? You need to start by identifying the behaviours that you are not prepared to tolerate at the outset. For example, you might want to look for evidence of bigotry, racism, misogyny, homophobia, violence and criminal or fraudulent activity.

Furthermore, organisations must be aware of several other pitfalls of conducting online social media searches. The information they find might not be up to date or they might be looking at the wrong person but with the same name. Equally, it might be hard to find relevant information if it’s been shared under a different name or profile. Importantly, organisations should always focus on information that is relevant to the person’s potential role and is aligned with the hiring firms culture. Of course, many of the risks listed here may be mitigated when outsourcing social media checks to an expert third party, where no screening at all will take place without full candidate consent.

Organisations have realised that social media screening can add considerable value as a tool to determine a candidate’s suitability during the hiring process – especially given the considerable cost or re-hiring and potential brand damage if a bad hire is made. But you need to be very clear on the behaviours that you want to flag and remain compliant with national laws, which also apply to social media checks

According to Sterling’s ‘Hiring Reimagined’ research report, 52% of employers in EMEA expect to make their background screening program more robust in the next 12 months by adding social media checks. With the right approach, and with an awareness of the practical considerations discussed above, those employers can expect the rewards of social media checks to significantly outweigh the risks.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.