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Social Media in Background Screening

Social Media: Should Employers Use it for Screening Applicants?

It isn’t a secret that social media has taken a jump in recent years. With the development of the Smart Phone, social media mobile apps are readily available to share photos, videos, stories, and current events anywhere and anytime. From Instagram to Twitter and every social media site in-between, these apps are showcasing the best, and sometimes worst, parts of people’s lives. Research from Pew Research Center shows that social media is skyrocketing with 90% of young adults using social media, compared to the 12% that used it in 2005.

Year 18-29 30-49 50-64 65 or older
2005 12% 8% 5% 2%
2006 41% 6% 3% 0%
2008 63% 27% 9% 2%
2009 72% 44% 22% 7%
2010 78% 53% 33% 11%
2011 80% 60% 37% 13%
2012 83% 67% 43% 19%
2013 88% 73% 52% 26%
2014 84% 77% 52% 27%
2015 90% 77% 51% 35%
*Source: Pew Research Center Surveys, 2005-2006, 2008-2015. No data is available for 2007*

The widespread use of social media is undeniable, but does that mean employers should use it to screen their applicants?


Though people who argue for the use of social media in screening are aware of the legal risks of discrimination, they believe that ignoring social media entirely can lead to missing out on important information. Researching through social media can help dig deeper in a candidate’s work ethic and approach towards others that can lead to the final hiring decision. For example, when looking through the applicants Facebook page you might come across their active volunteer work history. On the other side of the coin, an employer may find the applicant is putting crude or inappropriate posts on their Twitter account. Using social media can help you avoid a bad hire that can cost you money or damage to your company’s reputation. People in support of its use suggest considering the lawful side of the use of social media in screening, but advocate that it can, in return, lead to hiring first-rate employees.


On the contrast, some believe that using social media to screen applicants can be a breach of their privacy and that there are too many legal ramifications of doing so. It is all too easy to get caught up in what is getting posted and create discriminative biases of the applicant in your mind that may lead to not hiring the candidate. Though these biases may be unintentional, subconscious and based on personal taste (such as not favoring their style or discriminating due to their age) they can lead to discrimination lawsuits.

Another point to consider is that often social media accounts can be hacked and may present factious or false information of the applicant.

What do you think?

Do you consider the use of social media in applicant screening is unethical, or do you think it can paint a more vivid picture of the potential hire?
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