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How Employers are Using Social Media in Background Checks

Whether it’s the teacher who was fired for her MySpace profile or the woman that lost her sick leave benefits over a Facebook photo, there are numerous documented cases of social media affecting people’s professional lives. But did you know that inappropriate social networking can cause problems before you even start your career?

More and more, hiring managers are turning to social media to scope out job applicants. According to Microsoft research, 79% of U.S. hiring managers have admitted to using the Web to look up information about applicants, with an astonishing 70% admitting to rejecting a client based on negative content.

Some people think that looking up social media profiles of job applicants is unfair and tantamount to peeking through their windows. There may be some truth to that argument, but it’s not likely to change anything. The undeniable reality of living in the internet age is that the things we do online will have an impact in our offline lives.

As further proof of this new reality, the FTC recently approved a new background check company called Social Intelligence. Unlike other background check companies, which look up credit scores and other similar data, Social Intelligence specializes in scraping information from an individual’s social media profiles. Social Intelligence then analyzes the data, flagging certain content as objectionable (primarily racist, sexist, or violent content).

There are limited advantages to Social Intelligence. For one, the company currently uses human agents to filter the content. This helps prevent individuals from being flagged for content that is taken out of context. Also, as in a regular background check, individuals must first agree to the report. If they are rejected based on something found in the check, they have a right to see what the objectionable content was.

However, despite its positive attributes, Social Intelligence portends an ominous future. Imagine what would happen if mandatory social media screenings became a standard part of the hiring process. What if machines, instead of humans, began processing these reports? As Reputation.com CEO Michael Fertik wondered during a recent segment with Fox & Friends, would you trust a computer to make the right judgment about your professional reputation?

Although the company will do a new scan every time a company requests your data, by law, Social Intelligence can store data on an individual for up to seven years. In other words, if you do something stupid on your Facebook profile now, it might come back to hurt you seven years down the road. Parents, particular parents of new college graduates, should remind their children of this fact and encourage them to be responsible about how they use social media.

As one of the first generations to grow up with the internet, modern teenagers are incredibly tech savvy. But, that doesn’t mean they have the ability to think about the long-term consequences of their online actions. Help your children understand that what they share online is like a digital tattoo. They might like it now, but will they like it in seven years when they’re trying to find a job?


Rob Frappier is community manager for Reputation.com, a business specializing in personal privacy and online reputation management services.


Categories: Reputation

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