Background Checks on Applicants Using Facebook

Nick Fishman

Those of you who have followed our blog over the past few years know that we have been a harsh critic of using social networking sites to conduct background checks on employees.  The biggest driver in our arguments against this practice has always been our concern is that doing so was a lawsuit waiting to happen.  Potential discrimination, negligent hiring, lack of transparency, no dispute process, etc.

And yes, we still have these concerns.  However, we can’t bury our heads in the sand anymore and say that employers just shouldn’t do it.  In fact, we’ve heard about cases where employers are held accountable for not checking a public site, when they could have avoided incident if they did.

So where does this leave us.  I guess somewhere in the middle.  If you look at the numbers, more and more employers are using social networking sites as part of their employment screening procedures.  As a CRA, I am still not sure I want anything to do with offering the service on behalf of my clients.  But, I do know for sure that I would like to help them avoid the potential risks inherent in this practice.

Earlier today, I published a guest article on EmployeeScreen University entitled “Screening Job Applicants with Facebook”, written by Molly DiBianca.  Molly is a labor and employment attorney who has been an outspoken advocate of this practice.  While I have not always agreed with her position, I have a great amount of respect for her as a trailblazer in this regard.  She offers solid advice that employers can use if they decide to engage in social networking employment background checks.

I encourage you to read the article in it’s entirety and draw your own conclusions about whether this is right for your organization.

P.S. In a roundabout way, this post also serves as an apology to Social Intelligence’s Max Drucker for not taking the time to listen to his arguments about this practice before firing off.  I agreed be more open-minded and Max agreed not to kick my ass:)

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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  • Interesting update, Nick. I can’t say I’m surprised you’ve had to soften your position; however, I continue to support and agree with your concerns about the risks of engaging in this practice in inappropriate and ill-thought-out ways.

    Last fall you shared my white paper – Social Screening: Candidates (and Employers) Beware via EmployeeScreen University, and I think it’s worth reminding folks of again. It really seems to have resonated with folks and continues to be widely read and shared. Here’s a short link to access it:

    I’ve written another piece about employers asking candidates for their social networking login credentials, which can be accessed via And most recently I’ve written a post about social media policies, which can be accessed via

    Managing the risks associated with social media is critically important, but it’s even more critical that it be done the RIGHT way.

    Courtney Hunt
    Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community

  • PS – I just read the piece written by Molly DiBianca. She offers some sound advice, but I don’t agree with all of her recommendations. Specifically, I don’t see any reason why a prospective employer should access a candidate’s Facebook account, with or without permission. If you don’t ask for access to their email accounts, their address books, their house, their bank account – places where similar information can be found – you don’t need to access their private Facebook activity. Furthermore – and this is part of the ACLU’s issue in the Maryland case – even if you have the candidate’s permission you don’t have permission of their friends and family, whose privacy you’d also be invading. Finally, as a practical matter, giving a candidate advance notice gives them a chance to “clean up” any incriminating photos.

    In my view, employers should only include publicly-available information in their screening process, whether that information is found through credit bureaus, courts, or cyberspace. Candidates’ private information should remain just that – private.

  • Name

    Here in the UK the use of social networking sites is likley to breach the Data Protection Act 1998; Principles 1-Fair and lawful Processing; 2 Use of personal data for a purpose other than intended. That in turn is likely to breach Article 8 Human rights Act 1998 -Respect for Privacy.
    You are likely to be in breach of your contract with the social networking site if they have included a clause, as many of them do, that forbids the content to be used for commercial purposes. I don’t think anyone would disagree that screening was a commercial purpose.
    So if we don’t comply with the law of the land where does that leave us when we bring flaws in a candidate’s application to the attention of our client’s? Where does it leave the client if the applicant finds out about these breaches?

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