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Could a New "Social Media Background Check" Cost You the Job?

Could a New "Social Media Background Check" Cost You the Job?

By Lauren Bayne Anderson

July 27, 2011

It’s the not so “new” thing. Potential employers (or current ones) looking at your Facebook page to glean information about your personal life—and make a decision on whether or not to hire (or fire) you!

Actually, companies have been doing it for a while now. Joe Bontke, outreach manager for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) office in Houston, said 75 percent of recruiters are required to do online research of candidates and 70 percent have rejected candidates because of what they found, in a recent New York Times article.

But a few things have changed. And if you’re a job candidate, not necessarily for the better.

Some companies are now requiring potential employees to pass a “social media background check” before offering them a job. In fact, that’s all one company, Social Intelligence, does.

Social Intelligence will check a candidate’s Facebook page, Google, LinkedIn—in fact, they scour the Internet to dig up anything they can on job seekers within the past seven years—much like a financial credit check.

While the company’s report offers up accolades you’ve received and professional honors, etc., it will also show potential employers any questionable activity you’ve participated in online.

A recent New York Times article gave some examples of exactly what Social Intelligence has found that lead to job offers not being extended. “…one prospective employee was found using Craigslist to look for OxyContin. A woman posing naked in photos she put up on an image-sharing site didn’t get the job offer she was seeking at a hospital” the article said.

The New York Times article continued, “Other background reports have turned up examples of people making anti-Semitic comments and racist remarks…Then there was the job applicant who belonged to a Facebook group, “This Is America. I Shouldn’t Have to Press 1 for English.”

That last example, while not overtly racist, could raise concerns with potential employers that the candidate doesn’t like immigrants and may have some underlying racial issues. Even gray areas like this could potentially cost a job seeker the job.

Interestingly enough, the company told the New York Times that less than a third of the damaging information they find on candidates comes from social media platforms like Facebook. Instead, much comes from “deep Web searches that find comments on blogs and posts on smaller social sites, like Tumblr, the blogging site, as well as Yahoo user groups, e-commerce sites, bulletin boards and even Craigslist”, the New York Times article reported.

People may not even realize that comment they made on a list serve are public and can be found in a search. The good news is, the company requires the candidate to consent to the background check before it’s started—which could give you a heads up on removing anything you don’t want potential employers to see from your Facebook, Twitter or MySpace pages. But things like Craigslist posts, and anything that shows up when someone searches for you on Google could be tougher to take care of.

And while the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has declared the company is in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and doesn’t violate privacy laws, the Social Intelligence goes one step further, claiming it actually HELPS potential employees by assuring the inquiring company doesn’t confuse the applicant with someone else they find online.

But while the FTC may not have a problem with what Social Intelligence is doing, the EEOC isn’t so sure. In the same New York Times article Bontke said that employers must be careful in what they find online. He said employers risks of violating federal antidiscrimination employment rules if they base hiring decisions on information found online that answers questions they are not legally allowed to ask in interviews.

“Things that you can’t ask in an interview are the same things you can’t research,” he said in the New York Times article, including information on a person’s age, gender, religion, disability, national origin and race.

However Social Intelligence says it doesn’t present any of that type of information to employers.

RELATED READING: How to Clean Up Your Online Image

Information compiled from The New York Times and CTI Career Search .