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What is a Social Media Background Check?

Updated: May 15, 2023


social media background check for employers and contractors

A Social Media Background Check involves reviewing a person's online presence across various social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok, and Reddit. This provides insights into a person's character and behavior that may not be apparent from traditional background checks. It's crucial to note that these checks should respect privacy laws and terms of use of each platform.


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What Does A Social Media Background Check for Employment Show?


While some may think that Social Media is a relatively new concept – it has actually been around quite a while, with the first recorded social media site being debuted  in 1997.  Granted, it has progressed a lot over the  years  and now we are all very familiar with Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and so on. 


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A Social Media Background Check typically examines the following aspects across an individual's publicly available social media profiles:


1. Inappropriate Content: This includes posts, comments, images, or videos that are obscene, violent, or contain explicit material.


2. Illegal Activity: Any evidence of illegal activities or involvement in such activities can be noted in a social media background check. This could range from drug use to participation in unlawful events.


3. Discriminatory Behavior: Posts or comments that show discrimination or harassment towards a particular group based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or other protected classes are taken into account.


4. Threatening or Violent Behavior: Any evidence of violent behavior, threats, or harassment towards individuals or groups is checked.


5. Unprofessional Conduct: This could include inappropriate comments about current or past employers, colleagues, or clients, or any behavior that may reflect poorly on a professional capacity.


6. False Information: Discrepancies between the information provided to the employer and the information available publicly on social media platforms are noted. This could be false qualifications, employment history, etc.


7. Public Perception: A general assessment of how an individual's online behavior might affect public perception of the organization if the individual were to be hired.


8. Political Posts: Social media background checks may also examine posts, comments, or affiliations that reveal an individual's political beliefs or activities. It's important to note, however, that a person's political beliefs are protected in many jurisdictions, and employers should use caution not to discriminate based on political affiliations or beliefs. Always consult with legal counsel to understand the laws applicable to your specific situation.


It's important to note that while social media checks can provide valuable insights, they should always be conducted ethically, respecting individual privacy rights, and should never be the sole determinant in a hiring decision.


9. Custom Keywords: One of the unique features of Global Background Screening's social media background checks is the ability to add as many custom keywords as needed. This can help in tailoring the check to uncover specific types of content that may be relevant to your organization or role. However, always ensure that these keywords are used responsibly and in accordance with applicable laws and regulations to avoid infringing on individual privacy rights.


How far back can a Social Media Background Check Go?  

background checks social media

While Social Media Screening shares certain guidelines with the FCRA, a crucial distinction lies in the permissible search duration for profiles, which is limited to a span of 7 years in the case of Social Media Screening.


Moreover, the information that can be utilized from these checks is specifically related to any content that may signal potential workplace issues. Examples of such content include signs of drug and alcohol abuse, indications of violent behavior, hate speech, sexually explicit materials, or any potentially unlawful activities.


However, certain personal details cannot be considered during this process. Such information includes, but is not limited to, marital status, sexual orientation, religious affiliations, citizenship, or veteran status. Consequently, these particular terms cannot be included as search parameters during the Social Media Screening process.


What do Employers Look For on Social Media?


From our experience, employers tend to look for violence, racism, drug related comments, likes, posts and groups you're following. Even though GBS has key metrics to search for the typical social media hate crimes, some employers will add additional keywords to the background checks.


Why Is Social Media Screening Good?


While background checks find what you've already been caught with, social media screening may provide enough red flags to indicate that the candidate may cause issues with current employees or the company as a whole.

How Do I Do a Social Media Background Check On Myself?

You can order a background check on yourself by "signing up" on the top right of our site. Reach out directly if you have any questions.


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What Are the Guidelines for Social Media Screening?

A couple of the most popular questions that we are asked is “Is this legal?” and “How do you hack a locked account?”  and people are also curious about it really being a necessary search and often times think they can just do it themselves. 


So first of all, Yes, it is legal!  And GBS will never “hack” an account. 


Here are the guidelines:

  1. Must gain permission from the job candidates just like a typical background check.

  2. We can only pull public posts. This is probably the most asked about. So you can only view candidates social media posts if they are made public.

  3. Consumer Reporting Agencies cannot ask for passwords or create fake accounts in an attempt to get online access to the protected account. This actually violates numerous state privacy laws.


But remember,  the World Wide Web is never ending and it’s very rare that someone is totally undetectable!  But you do have to make sure that you do it correctly. 


 How to do a Social Media Search on yourself?


You might want to check all your social pages again to make sure the privacy settings are on!  It’s definitely worth taking another look to be sure.  Usually the first step in doing a social media search is a “Google” search.  It’s the best way to get a blanket look at what’s out there.  It would be wise to go through all your social media accounts and look at them as an employer would.  If your social media content is not where you think it should be - consider editing some of your data.


Should an Employer have a Social Media Policy?


Employers should  have a Social Media Screening policy that makes sense for their industry; definitely a disclosure to let the applicant know this will be standard protocol as part of the screening process and could possibly even be searched post-hire (or throughout the contract period).