Social Media Screening: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Posted Friday, April 21st, 2017 by Sterling Talent Solutions

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Social networking is one of the most popular online activities with high user engagement rates and expanding mobile possibilities. According to estimates, the number of worldwide social media users reached 1.96 billion and is expected to grow to at least 2.5 billion by 2018. North America leads the way with the largest penetration of social media users at 59% followed by South America and Western Europe. Sherpa Marketing indicates that 64% of Canadians have a social networking profile and over 50% of Canadians are registered to more than one social media platform. With this in mind, it probably comes as no surprise that social media is playing an increasingly significant role in the recruitment process. How much should employers depend on these networks to source and screen potential employees?

According to CareerBuilder’s 2016 social media recruitment survey, 60% of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates, up from 52% last year and 11% a decade ago. The report also found that almost half of hiring managers who screen applicants via social networks have found information that caused them not to hire a candidate. Conversely, 41% of employers say they are less likely to interview job candidates if they are unable to find information about that person online (either on social media or via a search engine).

Social Media and Recruiting

Using social media to support the recruitment process can provide valuable opportunities for both the candidate and the employer. A recent survey from The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found “the number one reason employers engage in social media channels is to attract potential candidates not yet looking for a new job.” Social media is used by 82% of the organizations surveyed to recruit managers and other salaried employees (87%) and hourly employees (55%).

Many of the social networks – such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – can prove to be very effective when identifying and communicating with top talent. Researching an applicant on social media may also enable employers to find out a little more about them, rather than just relying on their résumé. For example, LinkedIn could offer additional detail to back up a candidate’s qualifications or demonstrate whether they would be a good cultural fit for the company.

Risks of Social Media Screening

Social media can, therefore, be useful when trying to source candidates. However, there are pitfalls that employers must be aware of if they are using social media to screen – and reject – an individual. This is because making a hiring decision based solely on what is found on a candidate’s social media profile could be seen as unethical and could open the employer up to the risk of liability, discrimination claims or a breach of privacy laws.

If a social media search uncovers any illegal activity, it could influence the hiring decision, but, in general, it would be wise to proceed with caution and seek advice before you reject someone based on information found on social networks. After all, this may only be one piece of the story, as far as an individual’s background or character is concerned, and it may not even be an accurate representation. The problem is that it’s a bit of a grey area for employers, so it’s a good idea to use a third party screening provider if you intend to use social media as part of your background checking process.

Be Transparent and Informed

It is advisable to develop a robust social media screening policy as part of a company’s overall employee background screening program as well as inform candidates that you intend to use social media to collect information on them. By downloading our article, “Age of The Millennials: 6 Tips for Screening an Emerging Generation” you can receive tips so your company can provide a positive, effective and compliant candidate experience for members of this digital generation.


This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.