Using Social Media for Background Checks

Currently, there are over a billion people who use social media in the world.  What are the chances that a candidate that applies for a position has a social media page? Incredibly high.  High enough where an employer may think that they can get a free background check on the candidate without them knowing.  One report has suggested that around 90% of employers use social media sites to screen potential employees, and close to 70% of employers have rejected a candidate because of something they found on social media.   

These social media background checks can lead to problems if employers are not careful.  The Wall Street Journal reported a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University who used “dummy” resumes and profiles and found that a third of U.S. firms searched on social media for information about the applicant early in the hiring process.  In these cases, these “dummy” profiles that identified the applicant as being a Muslim were less likely to receive a call back than a Christian.  Christians received call backs at a rate of 17% to 2% for Muslims.  Hiring discrimination is a serious offense, and can lead to lawsuits and significant fines from the EEOC. 

Recently, there was a lawsuit concerning background checks and social media in California, (Sweet v Linkedin Corporation).  In the lawsuit, a group of unsuccessful job applicants argued that Linkedin failed to comply with the FCRA in how it operates and maintains “Reference Search.”  Reference search is a tool that Linkedin provides that allows users to view a list of people that a candidate has worked with.  Sweet argued that Linkedin wasn’t complying with FCRA in regards to it’s “Reference Search.”  The court disagreed with the claims, however since Linkedin creates databases that are solely from information provided by account holders, so it falls outside the FCRA coverage.

An employer should have a clear set of policies and procedures to follow concerning the use of background checks and reference checking in its hiring process.  For an HR compliance review, contact myHRcounsel at 612-339-1421 or visit us at