DATE: May 2008 Social Networking & Background Screening: Cyber Supplied Information
More than ever, employers are searching the internet and social networking sites for information about their applicants. Human
Resource managers are using Google and social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook to help screen out candidates
prior to interviewing them.
According to a survey cited by CNN.com in an article titled Major Job Trends for 2008, over 45 percent of hiring managers in 2008 plan
to use the internet, including Google and social networking sites for background information regarding candidates. The same survey
reports that 19 percent say they are going to increase their use of the internet as a screening tool in 2008. (http://www.cnn.
Employers are generally searching for any evidence of a poor work ethic or bad attitude towards former employers/co-workers, illegal
activity or general inconsistencies with work and education history. Employers are also concerned about racist or sexist comments
found online because of harassment concerns within their company.
Extensive or executive level background checks are also becoming more common as employers strive to hire candidates that will
properly represent their companies. Many executives and HR managers admit that hiring the right candidates for their company is one
of their greatest business challenges.
While Commercial Investigations (CI) recommends using every legal means necessary to make sure you are hiring the right candidate,
there are challenges and risks with conducting your own internet searches. Self-published information on social networking sites is a
great source of potentially incriminating information and thus can be a useful but flawed way to screen-out applicants.
The problem is that the internet and specifically sites like MySpace are a source of information that answers questions to unlawful pre-
employment inquiries such as age, marital status, sexual orientation, religion and disabilities. Inquiries into these protected categories
can be evidence of discrimination.
Many job candidates also change their profiles and web pages before beginning their job search. Someone who looks acceptable
online today may have been easily screened out yesterday. Also, there are new social networking sites springing up daily. Searching
only the top one or two can be a biased method to screen out applicants.
Googling a candidate’s name opens up a can of worms as well. Many individuals have common names or even same name and date
of birth counterparts. The Google results are often not about the individual who is your candidate. It can be extremely time consuming
to weed through all the results. If criminal case information comes up, it may be about an arrest or violation and not a conviction of a
misdemeanor or felony. It is not recommended for employers to inquire about arrest information or violations and infractions. This is
an illegal practice in New York.
John M. Bagyi, Esq., SPHR, of Bond, Schoeneck & King, PLLC, advises employers he represents to take a proactive approach if they
intend to use the internet and social networking websites as part of the screening/hiring process. Specifically, John suggests
employers develop policies concerning when and how such searches will be utilized to insure they are not selectively utilized, thereby
opening the door to a discrimination claim. He also suggests employers erect a "wall" between those who review this information and
those who will be making the hiring decision - with only information relevant to the hiring decision being shared with those making the
CI offers an inquiry called Cyber Investigations to cover a complete sweep of the main social networking sites as well as the internet.
The inquiry also includes many proprietary database searches. The Cyber Investigation also includes a search of millions of “cached”
pages to find information that applicants might have removed.
With CI’s Cyber Investigation employers can choose the parameters of the data revealed in their reports. These parameters are
customizable on an employer-by-employer basis. For example, an employer can indicate that they do not want to know personal
characteristics that are protected by discrimination laws. Another popular choice is excluding legal activities, such as drinking by
individuals over the age of 21. Even more specifically, an employer can choose to obtain information specific to their products or
services and the subject’s view point of those products or services, e.g. animal rights, abortion and even politics.
For more information regarding the Cyber Investigations inquiry or your background investigations policy, please contact a CI
representative today at 800-284-0906.