5 Reasons the NFL Might Be Over the Line with Social Media Background Checks

Nick Fishman


There’s nothing wrong with wanting to know as much information as possible before hiring someone. This information might include past experience, skills, ability to grow in a position, and perhaps most importantly, a person’s character. Some employers (though not many) turn to social media as a way of determining if a job candidate really is who they appear to be—or not.

However, employers might cross the line at times when it comes to looking at candidates online. While the NFL is not an employer in the traditional sense, its scouts are recruiters seeking the best candidates for future players. We don’t have all the details based on this article from Sport Techie, but we can draw some conclusions about what the NFL should or shouldn’t be doing when it comes to screening potential recruits on social media.

1. Scouts “Catfish” Potential Recruits

Browsing a football player’s Twitter or Facebook account might be telling of his character and lifestyle, which may affect how that player represents the team or behaves when they’re off the field. However, it’s important to note that it is against Facebook’s Terms of Service to create a fake account. And secondly, is this practice truly ethical? Sure, it may have revealed certain behaviors for some recruits, but if scouts are intentionally deceiving players—isn’t this taking it a step too far?

2. Privacy Rights

One argument for staying away from social media in the recruiting and hiring process (for any workplace on or off the field) is that a person’s private life is just that—private. While they may post some questionable things online, does that mean they won’t be a good fit for a job? In my opinion, it’s circumstantial; some things are inappropriate altogether and should disqualify someone—but you can’t say that every instance of a candidate who posted a status with suggestive song lyrics, for example, should be disqualified. On the other hand, you can’t discount the fact that some recruits might post things that go beyond inappropriate into the territory of potentially harmful behavior, so it’s key to be able to distinguish between these.

3. Could This Be a Form of Discrimination?

Some players have been rejected based on the results from the “phony Facebook test”. While the article doesn’t specify what failing consists of, could the NFL be disqualifying recruits for reasons unrelated to their job? Sure, a tweet or status update might not show the most savory content, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a recruit should be considered less qualified. It’s also possible if the scout is significantly older or perhaps a different race, there can be misperceptions about the content posted—for the person posting it might not be offensive, while the scout finds it offensive in some way.

4. Accuracy of Information on Social Media

You can’t always trust what you see online—plain and simple. If we all believed what we read or saw online, the world would be in chaos. It’s important to use your own judgment (and common sense) to determine if information found online is entirely accurate. In addition, scouts (or recruiters) should consider how much weight is placed on questionable content found on social media.

5. The Need for a Consistent Process

If this screening practice is used for only some players or recruits, it really should be used for all—at least according to best practices. The NFL might not answer to an authority regarding its social media screening practices since recruits aren’t technically filling out a job application. However, the NFL is a potential employer. And that also doesn’t mean that it’s any more ethical for the NFL to create a fake Facebook account to “test” its recruits than if a company took the same action. It’s unfair for some recruits to be subjected to this, while others might pass right through.

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Nick Fishman
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Nick Fishman

Nick Fishman is the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, a leading, global employment background screening provider, and serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He pioneered the creation of EmployeeScreen University, the #1 educational resource on employment background checks for human resources, security and risk management professionals. A recognized industry expert, Nick is a frequent author, presenter and contributor to the news media. Nick is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio and Texas.
Nick Fishman
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