Background Checking … Using Social Media

Sep 28, 2010
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Employee referrals and social media have begun to blend together. Could background checks and social media be next?

A new company called “Social Intelligence” says it’ll “track the worldwide network of social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, LinkedIn, individual blogs, and thousands of other sources.”

Social Intelligence will, within 24-48 hours, produce a report on a job candidate using both automation as well as humans, the latter there to make sure there aren’t “false positives.” It says it will weed out “protected class” information it finds, such as race and religion. The company is also offering a version to monitor what existing employees are up to.

As far as the hiring version, a screenshot, which you can click on to enlarge, shows that the employee profile screens for such things as: “Gangs,” “Drugs/drug lingo,” “demonstrating potentially violent behavior,” and “poor judgment” — something we could all agree can be found in ample supply on social media.

I asked the company’s CEO, Max Drucker, whether this judgment thing is kind of subjective. “We err on the side of not flagging something,” he says, adding that “serious red-flag issues” are what they’re really looking for. He also notes that the firm has three people review information before the profile’s done. So, “Todd beat Sean in the 600-meter dash” shouldn’t show up as a Todd-beats-people flag. I hope.

Nick Fishman, the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, doesn’t envision his or other similar companies going down the social-media background-checking road. “Not only are they not now, but I don’t foresee getting into it in the future,” he says. “It’s a hornet’s nest.” Awaiting employers in that nest, he says, are FCRA regulations and EEO rules.

But Drucker, from Social Intelligence, says that “what we do is protect the employee from discrimination, and protect the employer from allegations of discrimination.” He notes that “if the employer is freaked out by the risks” of background checks and skips them, then they may end up liable for being negligent in the hiring process.

Robert Pickell, who’s the senior vice president of customer solutions at HireRight, says that he expects to see a lawsuit like that before long: a workplace violence or similar episode will happen, and someone will argue that the employer should have found information on social media indicating that the employee was dangerous.

HireRight has been talking to customers about the social-media-background-checking convergence for three or four years. The company has yet to plunge into it, though, saying there just isn’t demand, and the pitfalls are too great.

In the comment section, I’d love to hear your thoughts on all this.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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