The words “social media background screening” can strike fear into many people’s hearts. As HR professionals, we get it: On the surface, it can all sound a tad Orwellian. But rest assured. As the president of the leading social screening company, I take concerns about privacy and online life seriously, and the industry has responded to changing concerns and practices over the better part of a decade.

Keep reading for answers to frequently asked questions about consumer privacy and social media background checks.

How Do You Make a Reliable Match?

How can you be sure a candidate is being correctly identified at the start of a social media background check? At Social Intelligence, we’ve been doing these checks since 2010. We’ve looked hard at our data and systems to ensure sure that our ID procedures are 100 percent accurate. It’s much more complex than Googling. Using matching criteria provided during the employment-application process is the best, most comprehensive way to identify a candidate correctly online.

An email address is a good example of a reliable positive match that can be used to screen online activity. Other identifiers, such as names, must be combined with other provided information to make a match — such as employment history, education information or an image.

Who Should Do the Screening?

As a best practice, employers should never review candidates’ social media profiles internally. By choosing an outside firm to conduct reviews, companies can respect candidate privacy and eliminate the potential legal risk of a boss or co-worker viewing a candidate’s personal life before the hire: Employers reviewing social media content themselves could lead to accusations of discrimination. From hiring managers to HR directors or CEOs, a company could be at risk if employees are Googling candidates in-house (and according to a CareerBuilder study, about 70 percent of them are).

Analysts should be reviewing activity only for content that presents workplace safety concerns. Searching for specific information could be legally dangerous: anything related to race, religion, national origin, disabilities, pregnancy, family status, gender presentation, sexual orientation, age, or military status is off-limits.

What About Consent?

Getting consent before a social media background screening is mandatory per the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Even if you have an FCRA-compliant social-screening setup in house — one that would remove all protected class information before the hiring manager sees anything — you must notify the candidate and receive permission to review their social media content. Make sure to read your consent forms thoroughly and take a look at sample social media reports to see if your reporting practices match up.

At Social Intelligence, we only review publicly available information. Hacking, asking for a password or friending someone that is a candidate before hire could be a violation of state laws — and is most certainly a violation of trust. So, build a “privacy curtain” into your hiring practices and hire a third party to manage social media screenings and track social media activity on your behalf.

This post is sponsored by Social Intelligence. Social Intelligence is the only social media consumer-reporting agency whose process and product have been reviewed by the Federal Trade Commission. Contact us to view a copy of our Letter of Review from the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, check out our FAQ page here for more on social media background screening or contact us with any questions you might have.

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