Social media madness has gripped modern society and its hold won’t loosen anytime soon.

With the mid-2000s surge of MySpace and growth of Google’s search capabilities, it became easy to find people online. After Facebook took over as the social media leader, and grew its user base to 1 billion (only 250 million shy of the population of India), people’s lives were put on public display like never before.

It was only a matter of time until HR departments far and wide started pondering the significance of social media for candidate screening. That begs the question: Should they use social media to screen candidates? Can they really get relevant, job-related information about a candidate there that can’t be found from other sources?

The Start of a Slippery Slope

In some social media screening situations, people are not aware they are being assessed. Their privacy is being invaded, they are being socially biased, and have no opportunity to defend or protect themselves from scrutiny. Sure, an argument can be made that an individual’s social media pages should be kept professional at all times, so there should never be a problem. That, however, is not the world we live in.

70% of Facebook profiles are for personal use, and many adults would likely agree that personal lives and professional lives should be separate. This might support that personal Facebook pages should be off-limits when evaluated from a professional standpoint.

Beyond that, there’s issue of privacy – should employers be allowed to view information a person wants kept private? Does this mean every bit of your behavior will become fair game for employment? What’s stopping potential employers from encroaching further on the lives of new hires? Once you open that door, where is the limit?

What If a Candidate Gives, or Doesn’t Give, Consent?

If someone gives you consent to do something, then it’s ok, right?

In this situation, a consent form might be more harmful to the employer. A consent form could be considered coercive. A candidate may think, “They’re holding the job over my head, I can’t possibly defend my own privacy and reject this!” If candidates feel unfairly treated in the hiring process, employers only increase the odds of getting phone calls from attorneys, not the odds of getting good hires.

Other candidates who are tech-savvy will sign a consent form and hop on their phone moments later, locking all of their profiles down, limiting the ability to view them.

Most importantly, even if you have a signed consent form and your legal counsel assures you it’s all on the up-and-up, you’ll find one universal truth about social media: Some people post things, some people don’t – it doesn’t change who they will be in the office.

Remember, conduct on social media is proxy to other social standards. It’s assumed that “people are more real” on social media. This is not so! People behave a certain way on Facebook because Facebook now has it’s own status quo. This is not dissimilar to the expectation that one will conduct themselves professionally in the workplace, and may be very different than their conduct when with family or at a party with friends.

How It Might Fit in your Network of Evidence

All businesses should seek the advice of their legal counsel before considering social media screening potential new hires.

If you proceed with using it as a screening tool, the most important thing to remember is that it should be only one of the many criterion by which you evaluate a candidate. Although we caution against relying on it for making a hiring decision, it might prove useful if other methods of screening – known as your “Network of Evidence” about a candidate – have produced very thin results, or if there are inconsistencies in the information.

Resource Associates would like to remind you to consult your legal counsel prior to engaging in any employee screening practices to ensure they fully support your decision.