It's time to talk about social media background checks

Written by James on July 8, 2021

Woman sat at a desk reviewing the profiles of different candidates

As social media takes a different role in our lives, there has been a rise in employers using third-party social media screening services, such as Fama or Good Egg, to conduct background checks on current or prospective employees, based on what they've posted, often years ago. Fama claims to work with leading companies in the S&P 250 - and some of the biggest companies in the world. Here's our take on the rapidly growing, dark side of HR.

At yourself.online we put trust and transparency at the centre of what we do, and the individual always comes first. We felt it was time to call out Social Media Background checks and set out our position on why it doesn't work, and if you're an employer, what to do instead.

As an employer it may be tempting to introduce social media screening policies - after all, it is often your employees that form the first impressions of your company! However, when it comes to creating a positive and empowered work culture, being Big Brother isn’t the answer.

With the nuance of modern social media use, blanket vetting policies rarely work. Here’s why:

Negatives of Social Media Vetting

Accuracy

While having a quick check of the social media accounts of current or prospective employees yourself has become normal (90% of employers do it!), when you outsource this research to an automated tool it leaves a lot of room for error. Without your own personal sensitivities, there is a risk of false positives for unsavoury posts by a third party background check service. A photo holding a glass of champagne at a friend's wedding is very different to a video posted on a night out in Vegas - both of which may be flagged for alcohol by a background check. There have been plenty of hilarious examples of this going wrong .

Invasion of Employee Privacy

While there is an inherent understanding that public social media may be looked up, delving too far into your employees’ history will likely feel uncomfortable and oppressive. To put it simply, having your Twitter account come up at your onboarding would be a weird way to start a job. Instead, time should be taken to get to know employees in the real world, rather than forming an opinion based on their social media.

Follow Up Actions

If a problematic social media history does arise, it leaves the employer in an awkward position with an employee or candidate. The nuance of these conversations, take time and can create a culture of fear. No one wants to be reprimanded by their employer, rather a culture of open conversation will empower employees to consider their own social media themselves.

Potential Loss of Talent Pool

When recruiting or interviewing, these background check services can whittle down your list of candidates and potentially discount someone prematurely. By judging someone on their past, you negate the opportunity to realise their potential. Prospective employees shouldn’t be judged on childish or embarrassing activities from a decade ago (rather than illegal, of course), so these posts shouldn’t affect your hiring decisions today.

Potential of Punishing Diverse Candidates

Many of these third party background check services use AI algorithms that, simply put, still have room for improvement. There is a strong chance that the training data used could skew towards being unfair to different races, sexualities, socioeconomic backgrounds, or abilities. For the sake of a truly progressive company culture, potentially excluding candidates based on the algorithmic opinion of a computer model seems backward.

Reality Check

The reality is that social media is a part of our lives that we have all collectively learned how to use over the years. It is unlikely that you use these platforms the same way that you did a decade ago, so it is unfair to assume your employees or potential hires do, either. Organisations shouldn’t punish their team for mistakes made in the past, and using third party background check services removes all possibility of nuance in addressing these issues.

Image of social media networks

A Better Approach

Instead of being Big Brother, a more positive and constructive approach should be to create an open and honest dialogue around the importance of social media in the workplace. Individuals should be able to choose how they are represented online, with the knowledge and understanding that there may be professional implications for old posts or “oversharing”.

Part of this conversation includes equipping employees with the tools to reclaim their online presence. Services such as yourself.online allow for easy, thorough self-checks, with the ability for employees to review any flagged content themselves. Equipping your employees to do this themself is a sign of respect, and allows a culture of individualism (even in the workplace) to prosper.

Rather than relying on third party background checks, equipping your employees to use yourself.online is a positive and progressive way to navigate the intricacies of social media in your business. Avoid the awkward conversations and set your company culture up for success with the help of yourself.online.