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Social Media Screening in Hiring

We speak to Tori Tiller, Director of Partnerships at Fama Technologies, about why businesses are outsourcing candidate social media screening and how it works

Content Insights

Many companies use online and social media screening in-house.
Three in four hiring managers are already using social media.
Online and social media screening in hiring has become increasingly common.

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Does your company check a candidate’s social media profiles before making a decision whether to hire them?

This is the thorny dilemma facing almost every business today, as HR and TA leaders walk a tightrope between confirming that a candidate is the right person for the job, while also ensuring the hiring process is in line with an ever-growing mountain of data privacy and compliance checks.

Online and social media screening in hiring has become increasingly common across a range of industries, from financial services to education and healthcare, and is often carried out as one of several pre-hire checks, such as criminal record and Right to Work checks, which help to create a complete picture of a candidate’s background.

To find out about how social media and online screening works, the legalities, and why employers are outsourcing it, we spoke to Tori Tiller, Director of Partnerships at Fama Technologies. Fama partners with global background screening solutions providers including First Advantage to offer employers compliant pre-hire online and social media screening.

INFORMED CONSENT

While many companies use online and social media screening in-house, there’s an abundance of misconceptions about what is permissible and how the process works. A pre-hiring check doesn’t give an employer the right to view private accounts or to approach candidates as a would-be ‘friend’ on Facebook, for example.

Mrs. Tiller said, while laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, there are some general legal points that are common to most countries. Employers are typically only able to view content that job candidates have made public. And, most importantly, in many jurisdictions a candidate must provide written consent before any type of screening can take place.

“Consent or authorisation is the first pillar: candidates need to know what is happening, what we are checking for and what we’re not – and so before giving consent or authorisation they will be provided a disclosure or notice of what the search will include if they agree to permit it,” Mrs. Tiller said.

WHAT EMPLOYERS ARE LOOKING FOR

Mrs. Tiller said employers are typically looking for social media content that indicates a candidate may be a concern in the workplace or damaging to the organisation’s brand. “They want to know about social media content that a candidate has posted perhaps about workplace misconduct or activities – including making threats, a pattern of advocating violence, or information that demonstrates harassment of others online or cyber-bullying, as well as intolerance like bigotry or misogyny. Employers likewise want to be alerted to extremely problematic behaviours, including fraud, or other similar activities,” she said.

“Employers are not particularly interested in pictures of a candidate’s dog or wedding or birth announcements.

“What is critical is that Fama removes from its search results any personal information about a candidate that is available online that may not be considered under applicable laws by an employer.  In-house searches may inadvertently come across that type of information, but the Fama results eliminate that before the report is provided to the employer.”

Three in four hiring managers are already using social media to look at candidates, and three in four of those are doing so without the use of a third party which can help define what they’re looking for in a compliant and ethical way, screening millions and millions of public data points much faster than any human could, and actually finding the information they really need without the potential of introducing compliance risk

HOW SOCIAL MEDIA SCREENING WORKS

Standard compliance filters screen for crime, threats, violence, harassment, intolerance, sexually explicit material, and drugs. Employers can customise the process in line with their workplace conduct guidelines by adding their own keywords and deleting filters that are not relevant to them – for example, dismissing references to cannabis use in locations where applicable laws permit that type of activity.

Once filters have been set-up and the candidate’s online identity has been validated, Fama’s AI searches thousands of online sources of public data and identifies content attributable to the candidate that fits the employers’ definitions of workplace misconduct.

First Advantage, as instructed by its customers, typically conduct screening at the post-offer hiring stage as part of a more comprehensive background screening process. However, it can also be used to help whittle down a candidate shortlist or in non-pre-hire situations to review social media content on current employees. Indeed, some organisations routinely conduct staff social media screening as often as once a quarter where permitted under applicable laws.

Mrs. Tiller stressed that the screening companies are of course not involved in the ultimate hiring decisions – their role is to present information per the employer/customer’s requests.

Typically, social media search results for job candidates are found to be either very high risk or very low risk, rather than somewhere in the middle. “People always ask: “How many flags are too many?” but it’s not to do with the number, it’s to do with the content. For some topics, one flag is too many,” she said.

EMPLOYER BENEFITS

The obvious employer benefit is having more confidence you are hiring a candidate who is not only right for the role but also fits well with your company culture. “Considering time to hire concerns in the HR space right now, the interview time is limited and you aren’t always getting to know a candidate very well until after they are hired,” Mrs. Tiller said. “What if you could improve the information about candidate quality and get the right person from the start? Why would we not try to solve that problem?

“A lot of background checks look at a singular instance in time but we’re looking at patterns of online behaviour over years to give us a good indication of who this person is (or isn’t) – because nobody is going to walk into an interview and tell you that they’re really problematic.”

But why pay an external company to do this work if you have a perfectly good HR team who are more than capable of scrolling through Facebook and LinkedIn posts? Companies are outsourcing social media screening for a combination of reasons – time saving, certainly, but also objectivity, compliance, and risk mitigation.

“Three in four hiring managers are already using social media to look at candidates, and three in four of those are doing so without the use of a third party which can help define what they’re looking for in a compliant and ethical way, screening millions and millions of public data points much faster than any human could, and actually finding the information they really need without the potential of introducing compliance risks,” she said.

“We curate a report according to your filters, according to what your organisation considers appropriate or inappropriate online, and get it to you in as little as 24 hours if need be.

“And we deal with the flood of information, everything the candidate has posted, liked, or shared publicly over a period of years. So, we filter down that information per the customer’s requests so that the customer has discrete useable information in making their hiring decisions.”

CONCLUSION

Several years ago, an organisation would typically only consider social media screening checks after an employee’s criminal or misconduct behaviour had caused considerable reputational damage. Now, more organisations are adopting a proactive approach.

“We’re still seeing the reactive, but we’re in that shift from what was extremely reactive to becoming more and more proactive every day,” Mrs. Tiller said.

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