The Accuracy of Social Media

July 26th, 2014 by Dodie

With the growing number of people putting out every detail of their lives on social media sites you might consider using social media background checks on your potential employees or tenants. The idea is still somewhat new in this age so you might not know what a social media background check really consists of. As the term implies, it is a type of background check done on a person. This is specifically used by employers and landlords to look into potential employees’ or tenants’ social media pages (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Flicker and the likes).

Is this even legal? Yes. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has actually allowed and given background check companies the go signal for this. Well, as long as the search is well within the limits set by the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

As an employer or landlord opting to use this to screen an applicant, you yourself don’t have to look at his Internet and social media history. Instead, you may hire an unbiased, reputable background check company to look into the desired person’s social media pages. What companies like this look for in his social media pages are publicly available posts involving or suggesting criminal activities, racism, drug use, and inappropriate display of activities of sexual nature, things that have been on the site in the past seven years.

At face value, this seems like a great way to screen interviewees to find out if they might cause problems for you later on. This type of screening, though, doesn’t come without its own problems. The issue with looking at social media sites to decide whether or not you should hire someone or accept a new tenant is that it’s hard to tell if you are getting accurate information.

One leading company doing this service, and one of the first companies to offer such and given the FTC “Go”, is the Social Intelligence Corp. (SIC). According to COO Geoffrey Andrews, “…we run new reports on applicants on each new search to ensure the most accurate and up-to-date information is utilized, and we store the information to maintain a verifiable chain-of-custody in-case the information is ever needed for legal reasons.” Fair enough. There are still, however, doubts that surround the accuracy of such reports like theirs.

In an attempt to check for accuracy, Gizmodo employee Mat Honan had a social media background check done on himself and flunked the test with failing colors, so to speak.

Mat failed due to bits of information that he claimed to be inaccurate. The report mentioned admittance of drug use in a blog post, one that was taken out of context mainly due to his explanation of why people do drugs like cocaine and how LSD alters perception. A more in-depth look at the post would certainly give the one checking a better perspective on what Honan was driving at and how writers write, not necessarily what they do. Perhaps, to not make it seem unbiased, Honan also had social media background checks done on six other employees, including his boss, and all but one failed. It makes one wonder about the checks’ accuracy or if everyone’s always been up to no good and we just haven’t noticed. 

Hiring someone to conduct a background check for you, you’d want just the facts, not a list of what somebody might do based on vague and easily misinterpreted posts on social media, things that could have been posted way back seven years ago when one was much younger and less wiser. The company that will conduct a good background check may use social media in its screenings, but the weight of their report should be on things like education, criminal background, employment, and credit history. If they are any good, social media checks will not even be necessary.

You have a responsibility to accept the best employees or tenants you can find for your company or your other tenants’ sake. But you have to remember that a social media background check can make you look over a great candidate. Social media background checks, while allowed, are still up for debate, it seems. So while they may be helpful, it would also help you to be more careful and wise in choosing what to believe.

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