Social Media Screening
Guidance for Individuals and Organizations
Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD
Founder, The Denovati Group
©...
1Social Media Screening
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
August 2014, All Rights Reserved
Introduction
Social med...
2Social Media Screening
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
August 2014, All Rights Reserved
Contents
Introduction.....
3Social Media Screening
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
August 2014, All Rights Reserved
Social Screening Basics...
4Social Media Screening
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
August 2014, All Rights Reserved
• If the official searc...
5Social Media Screening
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
August 2014, All Rights Reserved
In Dressing for Success...
6Social Media Screening
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
August 2014, All Rights Reserved
For more on creating a ...
7Social Media Screening
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
August 2014, All Rights Reserved
Social Media Clean Up
I...
8Social Media Screening
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
August 2014, All Rights Reserved
• Don’t connect with pe...
9Social Media Screening
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
August 2014, All Rights Reserved
Mayer Brown to learn mo...
10Social Media Screening
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
August 2014, All Rights Reserved
Just because You Can, ...
11Social Media Screening
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
August 2014, All Rights Reserved
remember that we’re al...
12Social Media Screening
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
August 2014, All Rights Reserved
turn is likely to impa...
13Social Media Screening
©Courtney Shelton Hunt
The Denovati Group
August 2014, All Rights Reserved
Even if a third party ...
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Social Media Screening: Guidance for Individuals and Organizations

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Social media screening (aka social screening) has become a common practice among recruiters and hiring managers, as well as some coaches and college admissions offices. This white paper consolidates and updates previously shared guidance about this practice, providing recommendations for both individuals and organizations. It is primarily focused on job candidates and employers, but it can be applied to students, athletes, admissions offices and coaches as well.

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  • Here are the latest updates in state law protecting job candidates and employees, as well as links to previous state updates:

    http://www.proskauer.com/publications/client-alert/special-report-social-media-roundup/#page=1
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Social Media Screening: Guidance for Individuals and Organizations

  1. 1. Social Media Screening Guidance for Individuals and Organizations Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD Founder, The Denovati Group ©August 2014, All Rights Reserved
  2. 2. 1Social Media Screening ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group August 2014, All Rights Reserved Introduction Social media screening (aka social screening) has become a common practice among recruiters and hiring managers, as well as some coaches and college admissions offices. This white paper consolidates and updates previously shared guidance about this practice, providing recommendations for both individuals and organizations. It is primarily focused on job candidates and employers, but it can be applied to students, athletes, admissions offices and coaches as well. Social screening has become an almost commonplace recruiting and hiring practice. Employers are “googling” job candidates and searching social networking sites as part of their pre-employment background checks, and admissions counselors and coaches are using similar practices to make acceptance decisions about prospective students and athletes. Results of a recent CareerBuilder study (http://goo.gl/MEoLqh) indicated that over half of the employers surveyed rejected applicants because of their social media content. Reasons included the obvious, like posting inappropriate photographs, information about drinking and drugs, and criminal behavior, to things that may not seem to be deal breakers, like poor communication skills and “unprofessional screen names.” The study found that social media activity worked in candidates’ favor as well, by demonstrating things like well roundedness and creativity. A similar study, focused on college admissions, was conducted by Kaplan Test Prep in the summer of 2013 (http://goo.gl/XWNEfM). Although the percentage of admissions offices engaging in social screening was not as high, they are also on the rise. A related article in the New York Times (http://goo.gl/oHChmR) reveals that the reasons to reject – and accept – students based on their social media activity are similar to those used by employers (and be sure to check out the comments – almost 600 of them – to see what readers had to say about the practice). College coaches also use social media to evaluate recruits (http://goo.gl/bK1leh). As with job candidates and college applicants, the classic “knowledge, skills, and abilities” combination is increasingly not the only criteria by which people are being evaluated and judged. Off-duty conduct (where permissible by law), as well as general communication (what you say, how you say it, and where, plus what you share) often provide additional insights into whether to accept or reject an individual. I was recently interviewed for an article entitled How Social Media Content Hurts Job Seekers (http://goo.gl/LdKtbo), which prompted me to consolidate and update the guidance I’ve previously shared about the practice of social screening into this white paper. The guidance is primarily focused on job candidates and employers, but it can be applied to students, athletes, admissions offices and coaches as well.
  3. 3. 2Social Media Screening ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group August 2014, All Rights Reserved Contents Introduction.......................................................................................................................... 1 Social Screening Basics........................................................................................................... 3 Third-Party Screening Services............................................................................................... 3 Guidance for Individuals ........................................................................................................ 4 LinkedIn..................................................................................................................................... 5 Twitter....................................................................................................................................... 5 Facebook ................................................................................................................................... 6 Other Social and Digital Platforms ............................................................................................ 6 Google Alerts............................................................................................................................. 6 Social Media Clean Up............................................................................................................... 7 More on Privacy Settings........................................................................................................... 7 Limit Access to Your Accounts................................................................................................... 7 Think before You Speak............................................................................................................. 8 Guidance for Recruiters and Hiring Managers......................................................................... 8 "Not Illegal” Doesn't Mean “Ethical” ........................................................................................ 9 Just because You Can, Doesn't Mean You Should................................................................... 10 Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right............................................................................................. 10 Remember the Law of Unintended Consequences................................................................. 11 Is Turnabout Fair Play?............................................................................................................ 11 You Reap What You Sow......................................................................................................... 11 If You're Going to Do It, Do it Right......................................................................................... 12 Conclusion........................................................................................................................... 13
  4. 4. 3Social Media Screening ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group August 2014, All Rights Reserved Social Screening Basics The most common approach to social screening is to enter an individual’s name and certain other defining characteristics (e.g., city, current/former employers, schools attended) to narrow the search. These searches can be conducted through search engines like Google or Bing, or on specific platforms like LinkedIn. The results will include any and all information that is publicly available, even from sites that are generally considered private. Social screening can also occur as a result of general brand monitoring (e.g., looking for references to an organization on Twitter) and through asking candidates to provide their social media names (more on that later). For most job candidates, social screening is generally a later-stage activity, depending on the recruitment processes used. Because it is resource intensive, it usually occurs when the pool of candidates has been narrowed down significantly, and often just prior to an offer. By that point the candidates have already been screened on traditional criteria (e.g., skills, experience) and employers are focused on identifying factors that can create significant risks for them (e.g., engaging in illegal activity, disclosing confidential information, extreme bigotry). Minor indiscretions and lapses in judgment are unlikely to impact an offer decision. Employers can engage in social screening directly, with recruiters (both in-house and third-party), HR representatives, and/or hiring managers doing the searches. They may also employ a background checking service (aka a third-party screening service) to conduct the searches on their behalf. Third-Party Screening Services When a background checking service is used, the searches must be compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Here are the main compliance elements of the FCRA from a hiring perspective (see http://goo.gl/3Ks7YF for a fuller explication): • Job candidates must formally agree (i.e., in writing) to a background check in advance. • If any negative information is found, the third party must undertake steps to ensure its accuracy. • If an employer intends to take an adverse action against a candidate based on negative information that’s been discovered, it must provide the candidate with a copy of the third- party’s report, along with a statement of his/her FCRA rights, and allow the candidate to respond and/or dispute the decision. • Any information that is determined to be false after the fact must be deleted from the search records and the report. What does this mean for job candidates? • They’re given fair warning that a prospective employer is going to conduct a digital search, which gives them plenty of opportunity to conduct their own searches for publicly-available information to see what information/activity might be attached to them.
  5. 5. 4Social Media Screening ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group August 2014, All Rights Reserved • If the official search produces negative information that they believe is false or misleading, they have the right and the opportunity to address those findings. There’s also a well-defined dispute resolution process they can follow if an employer decides to take an adverse action that they believe to be unfair. Social screening searches conducted by background checking companies cannot be indiscriminate, unfocused, and exhaustive; rather, they should be specifically focused on criteria defined in advance by an employer that are job-relevant and legally-defensible: • They should only search for PUBLICLY available information. They should not access information that is private (e.g., password protected and/or not generally available on the internet). • Information that doesn’t correspond with the pre-defined criteria should be removed from the search results, as is information that is legally protected at both the federal (e.g., gender, age, religion) and state (e.g., sexual orientation) levels. • Although initial sweeps are likely automated, negative results should be carefully screened by human beings and verified to ensure their accuracy before being included in a report. • In conducting their searches, screening companies can only go back seven years, per the FCRA. Any information they find that's older than seven years cannot be included in their results. Contrary to what some people think, these screening companies do not create a database of results that can be accessed for future searches. Each social screen is conducted independently, based on a specific employer’s criteria. To comply with the FCRA, the companies must keep search results for 7 years, in case of disputes and/or legal action, but that data is not available for any other purpose. Though the practice of social screening by third parties has been criticized (and in some cases vilified), the risks for both candidates and employers may be much greater when social screening is not conducted by an FCRA-regulated third party. More on that later. Guidance for Individuals The risks to individuals based on their digital identities and activities exist regardless of whether employers and third-party companies engage in social screening. Information about us is shared publicly in cyberspace all the time – both by ourselves and others. It is incumbent upon all of us to monitor our digital identities and take appropriate action to manage them (e.g., fixing our privacy settings, using strong passwords, deleting inappropriate content, abiding by the rules of civility), even when we’re not actively on the job market. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to act as if we are always on the job market, even when we are gainfully employed with no intention of leaving a job/organization. Individuals with a unique set of skills that are in high demand are always fair game as passive candidates. And as many people can attest, anyone can involuntarily become an active candidate at any time.
  6. 6. 5Social Media Screening ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group August 2014, All Rights Reserved In Dressing for Success in Cyberspace: Give Yourself a Digital Make-Over (http://goo.gl/4FaMO0), I provide an overview of the steps individuals should take to create and maintain a strong professional brand in cyberspace. The following recaps and extends some of that guidance, particularly for job seekers. LinkedIn LinkedIn is the main platform used for professional social networking. Here are some key things to keep in mind: • Make sure you have a robust profile that focuses on your professional activities, connections, and experience. • You certainly want to present yourself in the best possible light, but you should not misrepresent your background, accomplishments, and/or skills. • Even though LinkedIn provides the ability to include some limited personal information (e.g., marital status, date of birth), there’s no good professional reason to do so. • In addition, you should think carefully about information you share regarding your hobbies, as well as the groups you join, the comments you make, and the items you share. • If your network is public, make sure you’re thoughtful about the people you connect with. • Always be cognizant of your professional identity and how it’s represented by your information and activities. For more on creating a strong LinkedIn profile and leveraging it for professional purposes, check out our LinkedIn platform guidance (http://goo.gl/WVPbZK). Twitter Twitter is used for both personal and professional purposes, so it can be particularly tricky. Here are some key things to keep in mind: • If you’re going to have a public account (and most people do), make sure your Twitter handle (account name) is professional, your photo/image is appropriate, and your page is designed well. • You shouldn’t feel compelled to tweet, but if you do remember that quality is more important than quantity. • As with your LinkedIn activity, be aware of how your tweets reflect on your professional identity. • Your followers and those you follow are a reflection of you as well. Make sure you’re comfortable with what your Twitter relationships may say about you. • If you want to use Twitter for both personal and professional reasons, you may want to consider creating two Twitter accounts to separate and better manage your identities and activities.
  7. 7. 6Social Media Screening ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group August 2014, All Rights Reserved For more on creating a strong Twitter profile and leveraging it for professional purposes, check out our Twitter platform guidance (http://goo.gl/cKz9e8). Facebook Although you can use Facebook as part of your career management efforts, most people use it primarily as a personal platform. And though some folks see no problem blending the personal and professional, I advise against it. Specifically, I recommend restricting your network to personal relationships rather than professional ones, and making sure you properly establish your privacy settings so that only certain information is publicly available. Even with tight privacy settings, you should still be able to use Facebook to learn about organizations and opportunities, promote yourself as a professional, and make connections. You don't have to friend anyone to have a professional exchange with them on Facebook. And commenting on posts or exchanging messages with others won’t give them access to your profile information. Additional recommendations: • Review the photos in which you’ve been tagged, and check the profiles of the friends who’ve tagged you (you may need to have someone else do this). If their profiles are unprotected, you may want to untag yourself. You may even want to ask them to delete the picture(s). • Review and pare down your list of friends. Unfriend folks you don’t really know, as well as folks you only have a professional relationship with (connect with them on LinkedIn instead). • Double check the pages you’ve liked and the groups you’ve joined (or been added to). Delete yourself from any pages/groups that could poorly reflect on you as a professional. Some people may advocate establishing two (or more) Facebook accounts to separate the personal and professional and further protect one’s privacy. Doing so is a violation of Facebook’s terms of use, however, so I advise against it. Instead, leverage a platform like LinkedIn for your professional identity. Other Social and Digital Platforms If you have accounts on other social media sites (e.g., YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, Tumblr, SlideShare), and/or you have a blog, define where the public/private boundary should be drawn for each and make the necessary changes to your account profiles and/or content. Err on the side of conservatism – something that may seem harmless to you could easily be misinterpreted by someone in a way that’s harmful to your interests. Google Alerts Set up Google alerts on your name, similar to what a prospective employer might search on. Make sure you are satisfied – or can at least live with – the information contained in the resulting links. If you don’t like what you find, take whatever action you can to clean up your digital presence.
  8. 8. 7Social Media Screening ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group August 2014, All Rights Reserved Social Media Clean Up I provide some tips on what to do in the Dressing for Success in Cyberspace guidance referenced earlier (http://goo.gl/4FaMO0). Additional tips can be found in the articles below, and by running a search like “social media clean up.” • Swear Off Social Media, for Good or Just for Now (http://goo.gl/eJs0IC) • New Offering for Job Seekers: Fewer Embarrassing Social Media Photos (http://goo.gl/2F0tZM) More on Privacy Settings Even if you have tight security settings, never assume any digital communication is truly private. Your connections may feel no obligation to maintain confidences you share via social networks. In fact, some of them may have a duty to report activity that appears to violate laws and/or policies (for that matter, so may you). Always act as if even private digital information can become public. Also, given how often various social platforms change, be sure to recheck your settings at least once a quarter. Limit Access to Your Accounts It’s hard enough to manage the risks to which you might expose yourself through your own actions, so why would you want to increase that risk by giving other people access to your social media accounts? In addition, it’s important to remember that on personally-focused platforms like Facebook, you have a responsibility to not just protect your own privacy but also the privacy of the people to whom you’re connected. With that in mind: • Do not share your login credentials with anyone except those you trust completely (e.g., a parent or your life partner). In addition, be sure to log out of your accounts when you step away from a computer, even if it’s not a shared device. And finally, make sure to lock mobile devices and tablets, and consider not having sites remember you automatically on those devices (thereby limiting access if they get lost or stolen). • Do not provide a prospective employer your login credentials for any of your social networking sites. The only activity they should be concerned with is that which is publicly available. If they wouldn’t expect unfettered access to your home, photo albums, personal correspondence and diary, they don’t need to see your private digital activity. More on that later. • Similarly, you should respectfully decline to log in during an interview and share your activity in person (this is what I call shoulder screening). Even if you are willing to share your accounts with them, the people in your networks haven’t agreed to have you share information about them without their knowledge/consent. With your social networking activity, it’s not just your privacy that’s at stake.
  9. 9. 8Social Media Screening ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group August 2014, All Rights Reserved • Don’t connect with people from prospective employers/recruiters on your personal social networks. For that matter, you should limit your personal connections with any people you only/primarily know professionally (e.g., bosses, colleagues, clients). It’s best to have a high threshold for allowing a professional connection to become a personal one. Think before You Speak Just as in the physical world, you will be judged on a whole host of factors in cyberspace. And since digital activity lacks the context and nuance that in-person interactions provide, those judgments – rightfully or wrongly – can be harsher. Because anything you share on a digital platform either is, or can become, public, remember to: • Present yourself and your ideas in a positive, civil manner. • Use good grammar and check for typos. • Abide by the explicit and implicit norms of a given platform/community. • Make sure your contributions and comments on public forums are substantive. • Don’t use foul language or make off-color comments (including jokes) that could be construed as offensive. • Know the rules and play by them. This includes laws (e.g., defamation), contracts (e.g., confidentiality agreements), employer policies, and community guidelines. • Take the higher ground – and stay there. Maintain civil discourse at all times. Avoid swearing, salaciousness, sarcasm and snarkiness. Don’t engage in or dignify personal and ad hominem attacks. Keep your emotions in check and focus on facts. Take conversations offline when necessary. • Remember that even though the flow of information in cyberstreams may be rapid, the pool into which they end up doesn’t evaporate. Old activity can come back to haunt you if it’s not purged. Always think before you tweet, blog, comment, provide a status update, etc. Guidance for Recruiters and Hiring Managers Although social screening can be a very powerful hiring tactic, it is far from being risk-free. Just because cyberspace offers a new playing field, it’s not a brand-new ballgame. The old rules (e.g., anti- discrimination laws) still apply. Social screening can in fact increase employer risks, because each digital search leaves a discoverable trail and creates new documentation and tracking responsibilities. The risks associated with social screening include cases of mistaken identity, fake or prank accounts and activity, and inaccurate information. There are also a host of compliance issues to be managed with respect to laws at the federal, state and local levels. In addition to obvious laws like anti- discrimination, employers must also consider things like the Fair Credit Reporting Act (if a third-party is used to conduct the checks) and the Stored Communications Act (check out this legal update from
  10. 10. 9Social Media Screening ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group August 2014, All Rights Reserved Mayer Brown to learn more: http://goo.gl/9fPJ1t). And beyond the legal issues are ethical and cultural considerations that organizations should not ignore or be too quick to dismiss. A couple of years ago there was a big brouhaha about employers and colleges asking individuals to share the login credentials for their social media accounts. The purpose was to access privately- designated areas to look for information, activities, and/or relationships that might create risk for an organization, such as gang-related activity, racial prejudice, or a tendency toward violence. This practice wasn’t widespread at the time, and it’s now all but nonexistent, but nonetheless there has been an ongoing effort since then at the state level to pass laws banning it (for a current update on where things stand with various states, check out http://goo.gl/8at9Jr). What got lost in much of the kerfuffle over this extremely rare practice is the need to discuss practices that are far more commonplace and occupy grayer areas of right and wrong. These practices include shoulder screening (asking a person to log in and then viewing content and relationships they’ve designated as private), friending job candidates for the purposes of checking out their personal activity (using either a real or fake identity), and browsing an individual’s account without their knowledge or consent. Employers (and third-party recruiters) who want to employ a sound approach to social screening should consider the following. "Not Illegal” Doesn't Mean “Ethical” Some people assert that a wide range of social screening tactics are acceptable because there are no laws forbidding them. Given how long it takes us to develop rules (in terms of both policies and laws) for the challenges we face in both organizations and society, we should be wary of relying too literally on what is/is not legal to guide our actions. History is replete with examples of laws emerging in response to ethical failures (like the practice of requesting login credentials, noted above), many of which caused a great deal of harm before they were stopped. By the same token, we can’t rely on people’s individual morals and values to help them determine proper behavior. Individual morality varies widely, not just in terms of specific values, but also in terms of moral maturity and sophistication. Rather, we should rely on our collective sense of right and wrong, which helps us define normative expectations for acceptable/unacceptable behavior. When we face circumstances that present new ethical challenges, we must rely on our shared ethical foundations to determine the new norms that should emerge. One of those collective norms, which was evident in the responses to the news about login credentials, is that we all have a right to privacy – not just in the physical world, but in cyberspace. If we wouldn’t ask someone for the keys to their home so we can learn more about them, why do we think it’s appropriate to ask them to give us the keys to their social network accounts?
  11. 11. 10Social Media Screening ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group August 2014, All Rights Reserved Just because You Can, Doesn't Mean You Should Digital data is so pervasive and easy to access that it’s tempting to adopt the mentality of “anything goes” and “everything’s fair game.” It’s challenging, to say the least, to resist the urge to snoop around and dig for digital dirt. But when we create “physical world” analogs for our cyber activity, the dubiousness of these practices should become evident immediately. For example, most recruiters and hiring managers would never consider: • Following an individual and eavesdropping on their personal conversations, even in public spaces. • Staking out an individual’s home, watching who comes and goes. • “Spillover spying” on an individual’s family and friends, whose actions have little to no relationship with the organization and pose few if any risks. • Wandering around a person’s home, checking out their property, looking through their windows, or going through their mail and/or their garbage. • Entering the individual’s home (even if the door is open or unlocked) and rummaging through drawers, examining photo albums, checking out their movie and music collections, reading their personal correspondence. Similarly, they wouldn’t consider it appropriate to access an individual’s email activity, their online banking information, or other digital activity outside of social media. The same standards should apply to all of an individual’s personal information and activity, regardless of where it resides. Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right Many people try to explain or justify their social screening tactics by emphasizing that they’re looking for red flags that would indicate an individual might bring harm to other individuals, either inside or outside an organization, and/or damage the organization’s reputation or brand. They see their efforts as part of a defensible risk management strategy. Every organization has a right to protect itself, its brand, and its stakeholders, but that doesn’t give them carte blanche to engage in pre-emptive actions that can themselves cause harm, not just to the individuals whose actions they’re scrutinizing, but also to the organization and individuals they’re ostensibly trying to protect. Related to this idea is the notion of “blaming the victim” by claiming that individuals who don’t implement the proper safeguards have no right to be upset when information and activities they consider private are accessed. It’s absolutely true that people are responsible for protecting their own privacy; however, a lot of people haven’t realized that yet, or they haven’t figured out how to do it. And as we all know, the terms of use and privacy settings on many social media sites – especially Facebook – can be confusing and onerous, and few if any of us are able to perfectly lock them down. If we can agree that an unlocked door doesn’t justify a robbery and a woman walking alone at night isn’t “looking for trouble,” we should be able to apply similar standards to the ways in which people may make themselves vulnerable (often unintentionally) in cyberspace. It’s also important to
  12. 12. 11Social Media Screening ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group August 2014, All Rights Reserved remember that we’re all dependent on and vulnerable to the actions of others, so we will never have perfect control. Remember the Law of Unintended Consequences Many of the activities intended to manage risk create risks themselves, some of which can be greater than the initially-targeted risks. Poking around an individual’s social media activity is like opening up Pandora’s box. Some of the biggest risks include: • Accessing protected-class information (e.g., race, religion, age) and/or protected speech (e.g., whistle-blowing and concerted activity), and/or becoming aware of lawful off-duty conduct (e.g., drinking, smoking, political activity) • Viewing activity for which you have a duty to report (e.g., stealing, underage drinking, harassment, threats of violence) If a prospective employer takes an adverse action against an individual (i.e., not hiring them), it could be fairly easy for that individual to provide prima facie evidence that they may have been discriminated against based on their protected class status, their protected speech, and/or lawful off- duty conduct. The burden would then shift to the employer to prove that the adverse action was based on defensible factors. And if an individual were to cause harm to him/herself and/or someone else, the resulting investigation would very quickly evolve into questions about what certain authorities knew, or should have known, that could have prevented the harmful act. It’s hard to claim plausible deniability when you’ve friended a job candidate, and/or there’s clear evidence that you’ve explored their social media account. Is Turnabout Fair Play? How would recruiters, hiring managers, and others in positions of power and authority feel having their own activities scrutinized to the degree they may be subjecting others? Would they pass their own tests? Do they have no skeletons in their closets? Are they completely open books? Similarly, how would they feel if they were subject to “spillover spying” themselves, when the activity of someone in their digital networks is being scrutinized? Would they want to be informed that information and activities they’ve designated as private are being reviewed? Would they want to be asked for their consent first? Would they provide that consent? Simply put, we need to think about the Golden Rule and consider the potential hypocrisy of subjecting other people to a set of standards we could never live up to ourselves, or a set of actions we would find objectionable if they were applied to us or our loved ones. You Reap What You Sow Requiring access to an individual’s personal information and activities is inherently distrustful, which breeds further distrust and undermines both the longevity and the quality of relationships. That in
  13. 13. 12Social Media Screening ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group August 2014, All Rights Reserved turn is likely to impair individual performance, diminish morale, and create/perpetuate a dysfunctional organizational culture. When that distrust is evident even before a relationship begins, it increases the likelihood that an organization won’t be seen as an employer of choice, thereby undermining its efforts to attract the best possible candidates and/or win the war for talent. If You're Going to Do It, Do it Right Managing Digital Era risks is critically important for organizations of all types. Concerns over negligent hiring and the desire to do appropriate due diligence before hiring someone are valid arguments for conducting social background checks, but employers shouldn’t let the relatively easy access to digital data lead them to act in ways that are not in their long-term best interests. Employers who are seriously concerned about their negligent hiring risks need to develop social screening processes that are global, internally consistent, ethical, and legally-defensible (at the federal, state, and local levels). Their searches should be based on bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQs) and job-specific education, skills and experiences, and should properly address risks such as adverse impact and adverse selection. Furthermore, it must be clear that social screening provides important information that can’t be learned from the applicant review, interview, and reference checking processes. Finally, the processes should also include steps to insure that legally-protected candidate information that is not job relevant is not revealed to decision makers. Although we are still defining best practices in this area, there is emerging consensus that we should: • Focus on information and activities that are generally perceived and/or intended to be public. • Balance the need to protect the organization and its brand with the individual rights of candidates. • Develop sound policies and procedures for accessing and reviewing social media activities of job candidates. • Create and implement sound and legally-defensible social media policies and make sure both individuals and people in positions of authority are properly trained about what they mean and how to comply with them. For a host of reasons, it may be best to use an FCRA-compliant third-party screening service and incorporate social screening into the regular background checking process. When employers engage in social screening on their own, there are likely to be fewer checks and balances and a much greater risk of discrimination using legally-indefensible criteria and inaccurate/unverified information. Background screening companies offer disciplined, systematic processes that insulate employers and produce relevant, verified results. In addition, from the candidate’s perspective, the process is transparent, with built-in accountability and the ability to address negative results.
  14. 14. 13Social Media Screening ©Courtney Shelton Hunt The Denovati Group August 2014, All Rights Reserved Even if a third party is not used, employers should consider duplicating as many of the FCRA-required steps as possible, including providing candidates with advance notice and having them formally agree to have their public activity searched, and employing notification and dispute resolution processes. Social screening should not be conducted by a hiring manager or someone involved in making the final decision. Instead, an independent group should conduct the searches and evaluate the results, redacting all irrelevant information before sharing them with decision makers. The searches should focus ONLY on publicly available information. Finally, since they are a significant source of vulnerability, organizations must make sure that hiring managers are properly educated and trained about what they can and cannot do when evaluating and deciding on candidates for specific jobs. Among other things, they should NOT ask candidates for their login credentials for their social networking accounts or ask them to log in during an interview and share their activity in person. Conclusion The fundamentals of candidate screening haven’t changed in the Digital Era, but the potential risks and rewards of social screening are game changers. Individuals who misrepresent their qualifications, say/do things that reflect poor judgment, and engage in dubious and illegal activity are much more likely to have their poor choices exposed when information about them is shared in cyberspace. Similarly, employers who have traditionally played fast and loose with the law when screening candidates now have a greater chance of having their methods be revealed and challenged. Even employers who don’t intentionally thumb their noses at the law are vulnerable if they don’t develop defensible processes for leveraging the new technologies. We’re still in the early phases of determining the proper balance between the rights and responsibilities of employers and individuals. It's therefore incumbent upon all of us to evaluate the ramifications of digital technologies in reasoned and reasonable ways to determine where the lines should be drawn and the best ways to move forward. Though not everyone will agree with my conservative approach, I think it’s best to err on the side of caution. Please let me know if I’ve missed or misrepresented something. I welcome other people’s insights, healthy debate, and questions. The more we talk about these issues, the faster we’ll come to consensus on a set of best practices that are practical, legally defensible, and ethical. Since I am in the US and this post is written from the US perspective, I especially welcome input from folks in other countries.

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