The Dangers of DIY Social Media Screening

The Dangers of DIY Social Media Screening

By Tricia O'Connor

Look, we all do it. The most brazen even do it every day.

No, we’re not talking about doing the dishes (although thanks to this well-known Hollywood couple for the inspiration).

We’re talking about snooping people’s social media profiles.

While peeking at your high school nemesis on LinkedIn is okay (no judgement!), you could get busted if you use the same tactic as a hiring filter.

Here’s why a DIY social media screen is so dangerous.

The 411 on Social Media Screening

Most social media profiles include information that could be considered discriminatory if you use it in a hiring decision. Here are some examples:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Gender
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Citizenship
  • Pregnancy
  • Age

Some states offer additional protection for:

  • Sexual Orientation
  • Weight
  • Marital Status

Employers are not allowed to consider certain information like race, gender, religion, or other protected classes when hiring. But this stuff – and lots of other information that can, but shouldn’t, play into earning a job – is almost always readily available through social media. Because this information is so visible, even the most seasoned recruiters and talent acquisition professionals can unwittingly find themselves defending their actions in court.


You can’t “unsee” what you see, according to Bianca Lager, the President of Social Intelligence, a Santa Barbara-based Consumer Reporting Agency. EBI partners with Social Intelligence to legally screen job applicants’ social media accounts to help protect workplace culture and prevent harassment.

Lager says a growing number of states have laws regulating employer use of social media information. For example, California, Colorado, and New York have laws protecting employees’ and applicants’ activities during off-duty hours. And there are restrictions on employers from asking for user IDs and passwords.

Supersized Social Media

Today, Facebook alone has over 35% of the world’s population as active monthly users, logging about 2.7 billion users in the second quarter of 2020. Instagram has the highest concentration of United States users with 130 million as of July 2020.

So, chances are quite high the average candidate will have a social media profile. Employers should do what they can to shield their hiring manager from performing a DIY social scrape and avoid a discrimination claim.

Here are some best practices to follow:

  • Do not conduct the screening in-house. Employ the services of a consumer reporting agency, tasked with maximum possible accuracy and other Fair Credit Reporting Act requirements.
  • Establish a clear focus for social media screening. A good rule of thumb is to have a policy, be consistent in implementing it, and document each time you rely on it. 
  • Ensure the screening report does not include information that could be construed as discriminatory toward the candidate (or classes of candidates). A social media background check should focus solely on workplace relevance.
  • Maintain a social media policy. Apply the same criteria to potential hires as you do to current employees and make sure your policies and procedures are reviewed carefully by appropriate counsel.
  • Put it into context. Ensure your provider supplies you with an understanding of proper context, considering innuendos and sarcasm in a variety of media types like gifs, memes, and video.

Remain Compliant

Outsourcing social media screening is a tried and tested way to avoid bias (accidental or otherwise) yet accomplish values-based goals by verifying that potential employees fit your company culture and employee conduct guidelines.

A social screening report comprises a 360-degree view of a candidate’s or employee’s digital business-related behavior. For example, EBI’s social screening reports focus on: 

  • Intolerant or racist remarks/images
  • Potentially illegal behavior or violent conduct
  • Sexually explicit material

These reports are curated from a variety of social media accounts, dating websites, pictures, microblogs, forums, and online communities. A proper social screening report from a vetted provider should be FCRA compliant and accurately match a candidate or employee to their digital activity. One of our reports shields your HR professionals from feeling compelled to perform a DIY social media check and helps employers to: 

  • Maintain workplace safety both in-house and remote
  • Bolster culture with people who enhance your mission
  • Reduce negligent hiring and discrimination lawsuits

While there is no substitute for a criminal background check, an EBI Social Screening Report is a necessary component to any comprehensive hiring policy.

Final Thought

Here is something to DIY when you have a moment: our webinar recording and slide deck presented in partnership with Social Intelligence. It paints a full picture of social media and its effects on employment in 2020.

If you’re curious about the role social media screening can play in helping you keep your employees safe, reach out to one of our EBI experts. They’d love to speak with you and help you achieve your business goals in this new enterprise environment. They’re almost done doing the dishes.

About the Author

Tricia O'Connor

Tricia O'Connor

Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

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