Social Networking Sites & Employment Screening

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The debate about the use of social networking sites as an acceptable means for evaluating potential employees continues to grow and will only heat up in the coming months and years. While there are strong opinions out there, this is unchartered territory. I certainly have my opinions on the subject. So here goes. I am adamantly opposed to this practice. I understand that social networking sites such as myspace and Facebook have become fertile ground for identifying qualified job candidates. This makes finding individuals for consideration easier for recruiters. Where I draw the line is using social information found on-line as part of the background screening process. Why? First and foremost, there is no way of authenticating whether the content found on-line is true or accurate. The internet has become a place where many people (especially younger people) are comfortable and a place where they, believe it or not, can develop anonymity they cannot achieve in their daily lives. They take on personas that they throw out there for others to see. They can make themselves on-line whoever they want to be or fantasize about being, but could or would never become. They share information about their lives which may or may not be true in order to validate these personas.

How about the posting of pictures on these sites? Amy Polumbo, the recently crowned Ms. New Jersey found out the hard way how what you post, can come back to haunt you. As most young adults do, she posted non-pornographic pictures of herself with her friends on her private Facebook site. Yes, some were a bit risqué, but overall they were benign pictures of a college aged woman having fun with her friends. Someone gained access to these photos and threatened to blackmail her with them. Rather than give in, she decided to release them herself in a nationally televised interview with Matt Lauer from the Today Show.

No, she wasn’t being considered for a job, but one person putting their own spin on these photos and attempting to portray Polumbo in a negative light threatened her ability to attain the position of Ms. America. It’s easy to draw a correlation to how such a thing can happen in the employment environment. It doesn’t even have to be a blackmail situation. All it takes is an Internet savvy individual browsing a social networking site and then whatever is found can be interpreted in many different ways.

Lastly, I am concerned about the comments or statements people feel comfortable making about others in otherwise anonymous postings that could cause harm to the subject’s reputation. All of these concerns invite many questions for employers that would consider using on-line social networking content in their background screening process. What qualifies as information that would prevent an individual from being employed? Who decides? How is the information found verified to ensure both that it is true and accurate?

As an employment screener, it is our job to provide clients with reliable information about their candidates so that they can make informed hiring decisions. It is the mutual responsibility of both employer and employment screener to adhere to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which among other things obligates us to use the most reliable and verifiable methods available when evaluating a candidate through a background check. Social Networking sites cannot live up to this standard. And employers who engage in this practice are only opening themselves up to a long legal battle.

>All of these concerns invite many questions for employers that would consider using on-line social networking content in their background screening process.

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