Use of social media/Google in HR hiring/background checks

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This topic contains 12 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  Courtney Shelton Hunt 9 years, 2 months ago.

  • Author
  • #132265

    Tara Mable

    Has anyone addressed potential risks or implications using social media searches when considering applicants for Federal employment? What was the outcome? Does your agency support this type of search? I would like to hear from you.

  • #132289

    Hi Tara. I’ve written a number of pieces about this, beginning with a white paper entitled “Social Screening: Candidates – and Employers – Beware” that has been widely viewed and shared. I followed that up with a blog post and more recently have written about a case that specifically involved the public sector. I’m planning another follow-up with additional “WWTT” examples. Here are the short links to each piece I’ve written so far:

    Although not directly related, I’ve also written several pieces about the NLRB’s activity with respect to social media. If you’d like to see them, and/or you have any additional questions once you’ve read my material, please let me know.

    Courtney Hunt

    Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community

    Principal, Renaissance Strategic Solutions

  • #132287

    Alicia Mazzara

    I recall that we were not permitted to Facebook applicants in case the search revealed information about religious or political affiliation. These and other types of information might have inadvertently biased us when evaluating the candidate.

  • #132285

    Stephanie Slade

    Great resources. Thanks for sharing.

  • #132283

    You’re welcome, Stephanie! I’m glad you found them valuable.

  • #132281

    Tara Mable

    Thanks Alicia,

    My concern is the exact same relative to the protected classes. Results of social searches could potentially result in unitended biases which are not merit based and has nothing to do with the quality of work the indiviuals skills/experience may bring to an organization.

    I appreciate your feedback.

  • #132279

    Tara Mable


    Thank you for responding and providing these links, unforutnately the firewalls are preventing me from accessing the URLs. I will definitely take a look at these later. I am interested in the case involving the public sector and the NLRB’s stance on Social Media. I do know that the NRLB has held differently from other jurisdictions who have held that employers MAY lawfully terminate employees based on social media postings even outside of work.

    Thanks again and I will be in touch soon.

  • #132277

    You’re welcome, Tara. Here’s a link to the most recent post I wrote about the NLRB’s actions, which should reference the previous posts I wrote:

    Is the NLRB Turning up the “Social Media Heat” too High? No… Not Yet

    I’ve also been adding new cases/updates in the comments. They’ve been very active this spring!

  • #132275

    Scott Collins

    This is a great discussion! I will add (though a bit off topic) that I was currently hired for a politically sensitive position in May. Not sure if hey checked my social media sites, but I was hired specifically because of my command of social media… They saw my activity not as a risk but benefit to their organization. Very interesting.

  • #132273

    Lisa Coates

    Very interesting…from what I’ve been reading in the comments. There are good a bad aspects of using social media in background checks. I’m still undecided about it.

  • #132271

    Mark Hammer

    We had this discussion some months back on the IPAC (formerly IPMAAC) listserv.

    One of the points I raised then, and will raise again here, is that such searches can invariably ONLY turn up negative information. That is, it is rare that such a search would yield anything that would lead a prospective employer to say “Here are X reasons why I think this candidate would be a valuable addition to our organization”.

    It’s a bit like getting in contact with every school they’ve ever attended and asking for information on only the courses they failed or struggled in.

    It’s also fair to say that one’s opinion, following such a search, is shaped by the information you’ve had access to, or that they were willing to reveal. What about the things they posted under a pseudonym? Are people now rewarded for their rash actions if they make it harder to connect those actions to them personally, and punished if they reveal them honestly?

    It strikes me this is yet another case of “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. The technology makes it tempting, but I think that, unless one is trying to staff a high-security position, this is not a tree you should bark up. I might note that few employers would ever make selection contingent on a lousy personality test, or would have those selection decisions hold up in a court of law. So why use such searches the same way?

  • #132269

    Mark Hammer

    Quick addendum…

    I was registering on a newspaper site to respond to an op-ed piece. As per usual, I went to make my username my full and real name, since it keeps me balanced and as nonpartisan as is possible (I’d like to think my posts elicit a moment’s pensive reflection rather than an urge to call the FBI). Unfortunately, my name was “taken” and the software suggested “Mark Hammer1” and several other name+number combinations.

    So, here I am with all of these *reasonable* (lord, I hope so) posts with my name accompanying them, but are there, at the same time, all manner of brazen outlandish, and maybe subversive or bigotted or humiliating, posts with my name attached to them? And if there are, would any employer be in any position (or commit the resources to be in such a position) to know that the “other” Mark Hammer is not the one who applied to them for a job?

    Yet another reason why I would be disinclined to incorporate web-searches in making selection decisions. If the traditional means of assessing KSAOs are not working for you, then I suggest either reconsidering what those KSAOs ought to be, or reconsidering the manner in which you assess them, and leave the web to doing what it does best: selling us things, and allowing us to gossip efficiently.

  • #132267

    Denise Petet

    Slightly related…we had an incident where our local paper published the ‘top 15’ violators owing unpaid parking tickets. Tens of tousands of dollars of unpaid tickets between these 15. But all the paper published was the name of the person and the amount owed….and on various websites a witch hunt started with people ‘helping’ the city find the violators…thing is, even in a state as small as Kansas in population, still has plenty of people sharing the same name….and it didn’t take long for people to post ‘the XXXXXX in Manhattan isn’t the same XXXXX that owes money. she’s never even been to Topeka, much less racked up $5000 in parking tickets’

    so there is one huge issue – like Mark’s example – people having the same name as a bad guy being blamed for acts they didn’t commit.

    the perils of doing online searching. You may be basing your decision on bad info.

    And there is also the potential for, say, the ex to start posting bad stuff in their ex-spouse’s name to ‘blackball’ them out of revenge. With enough time, you can troll someone else’s reputation to shreds.

    On the other side, a person can certainly create a false online personna too.

    Unless you’re planning to hire that person to run your social media site, I think basing hiring decisions on any online research is full of pitfalls.

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