November 26, 2018  

Social Media Background Checks Are on the Rise. Here's Why

Social Media Background Checks Pre-Employment Background Checks Recruiting

Earlier this year, The Washington Post announced that the state of Virginia has been missing over 750,000 cases from their criminal database, including over 300 murder convictions, 1,300 rape convictions, and 4,600 convictions for felony assault. That means that over the last decade, thousands of firearm purchases, new hires, and crime scene investigations were completed without this information. The story raised hairs about how the background check process breaks down and left us wondering how so many records are falling through the cracks.

This incident reveals a larger point about the broken nature of our systems and processes for vetting new hires—and as rates of bigotry, violence, and other high-risk behaviors grow to record highs, businesses are some of the ones paying the biggest price. Why are companies having a harder time screening and vetting people today, and what can they do to stay ahead of the risks?

Traditional background checks are failing employers

A good background check needs to be legal, efficient, accurate, and informative. It should be legal so you don’t run into a lawsuit, accurate so you get the information you’re supposed to, and informative so you can glean insights that will enable swift and decisive action. More simply, a good system of screening methods will help connect all the dots about an individual.

Unfortunately, none of the traditional forms of vetting are doing this as well as they used to. They’re becoming less accurate and simply not informative enough for employers today, which makes it easy for an element of potential risk to go unnoticed.

  • Resume fraud is becoming more common, which elevates the risk of a bad hire for companies of all sizes, but especially those hiring at scale.
  • Criminal background checks have major accuracy issues. In addition to the time required to process these checks, the criminal background records are often incomplete, and the overall process has a high likelihood of error.
  • Interviews often fail to identify high risk characteristics, such as bigotry or sexism. When was the last time someone told you that they were a sexist during the interview?
  • Reference checks are increasingly pre-vetted, which means that the candidate has likely pre-selected references who are likely to hide unsavory, job-relevant information.

While all of these methods can be conducted in a compliant and ethical manner, many have gaps. This leads many companies to reach “behind the curtain” for more information. Some have sought out unlisted references through a practice called blind referencing. Others have searched candidates online and ’friended’ them on social media. But these practices tend to return inaccurate information and lead to legal exposure—and that means in looking behind the curtain, your company can breach the basic requirements of legality, efficiency, and accuracy.

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Why social media screening is on the rise

As companies find themselves in the headlines for a variety of issues that related to public online information and social media, they’re understanding that risk management is moving beyond courthouses and into the open web.

Online screening fills gaps that each of the traditional background checks are missing. It has identified inappropriate comments by executives, negative attitudes about work, and bad tweets that lead to major company scandals—none of which were previously identified by other background checks. It’s also caught more tangible security threats, including complaints about security protocols, statements of financial desperation, sharing of sensitive client information and involvements with terrorist activity.

While online screening has grown over 500 percent in the last 12 years for its ability to surface valuable information, the trouble is that most companies approach online screening manually. This approach is often inefficient, illegal, and inaccurate. Manual online screening methods have trouble staying on top of a vast amount of content, making it difficult to find relevant information when you need it most. It also leads reviewers to surface legally protected classes, and makes it difficult to verify online profiles.

Done correctly, online screening becomes the strongest supplement to the traditional suite of background checks. It is legal, efficient, accurate, and informative. By obtaining consent per FCRA regulations, standardizing your search criteria, and solving the various challenges that come with online screening using an automated approach, you can reduce hiring risk in your organization with full compliance and peace of mind.

A world that is increasingly digital, multivariable, and fraught with risk also needs new tools for background investigation. By highlighting the most important pieces of information in one of the world’s largest repositories of public data, social media and online screening can enable your organization to make stronger decisions about the people you hire and trust.

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