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What is a Social Media Background Check?

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Social media screening can help employers identify negative behaviours in candidates

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In 2021 over 4.2 billion people worldwide used social media. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, people spent an average of around two hours and 20 minutes on social media and messaging daily. This amount of time appears to have increased during and post-pandemic and is likely due to the number of people working remotely.

There are a vast number of social media platforms commonly in use. Currently, the most popular social media platforms, ranked in terms of Monthly Active Users (MAU), include:

  • Facebook: 2.9 billion 
  • YouTube: 2.2 billion
  • Instagram & WhatsApp: 2 billion
  • TikTok: 1 billion
  • Snapchat: 538 million
  • Pinterest: 444 million
  • Reddit: 430 million
  • LinkedIn: 250 million
  • Twitter: 217 million

Given the amount of time the average user spends on social media, it’s no wonder that businesses may want to check a potential employee’s social media history to see if there are any red flags that may cast doubt on their application. 

What is a Social Media Background Check?

A Social Media Background Check is a thorough examination of a person’s social media history, looking for negative behaviours that may be indicated by posts, likes or comments. This may help give employers an indication of the personality or character of potential employees. These negative behaviours include bullying, racism, extremist religious or political views, excessive foul language and more.

In addition to analysing a person’s social media accounts, a Social Media Background Check also looks into associations or groups to which they may be affiliated. Someone may post infrequently and have a relatively clean posting history, but this may only tell part of a story. If they are members of a group or frequently liked pages associated with problematic content or ideas, such as supremacist or fundamentalist groups, this may indicate a number of factors that could influence a job offer.  

Why you may want to run a Social Media Background Check

There are a number of reasons social media screening may be important, ranging from protecting the integrity of a business to security.

Hiring a person linked to a proscribed organisation or hate group may not only damage the reputation of a business but may also open them up to potential litigation, bribery, corruption or fraud.

On a more personal level, it’s easy for someone to hide prejudicial views in an interview, but such thoughts may be more obvious in their posting history on social networking sites. Hiring a person with prejudicial views can be disruptive, or worse, to the workplace. Such views could lead to interpersonal clashes between staff or with customers.

Social media history may also indicate that someone has a history of inappropriately sharing privileged information about a workplace or third party, helping to protect the integrity of your business. 

Even if the Social Media Background Check doesn’t reveal any major red flags, it may still indicate whether a potential hire will be a good fit for the company culture.

While there are a number of reasons why you may want to run a Social Media Background Check on shortlisted applicants for a job, there are some possible negatives that should be considered before committing.

With the sheer number of people using social media, the chance of multiple profiles with the same or similar names is high. This may make it hard to determine whether a profile belongs to an applicant or is a false positive match. It’s also easy for people to create false social media profiles or new identities online, so it may be difficult to identify profiles linked to a candidate.

With few exceptions, Social Media Background Checks are also time-consuming. If a company chooses to run checks in-house, this could take many work hours.  

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Do you need permission to perform a Social Media Background Check?

Social Media Background Checks may also be a potential legal minefield if not approached with the utmost care. While there are no laws as to the regulation of Social Media Background Checks, there are rules that should be followed in nearly all cases.

In the EU, Privacy Considerations, GDPR and the European Data Protection Board Guidance need to be followed with background checks. The non-discrimination guidelines must also be adhered to when conducting a Social Media Background Check. This means that the need for screening should be announced early in the hiring process, that permission is gained for the check and that the check is carried out late in the hiring process to avoid any appearance of discrimination.

Legal requirements for the United States vary from state to state, but all states have to abide by a set of guidelines put together by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) states that if a background check has influenced a job offer, the reasoning must be disclosed to the applicant.

Permission is required to perform a Social Media Background Check in Australia, as doing so may be legally dangerous as it could contravene the Privacy Act or the discrimination section of the Fair Work Act. Under the Privacy act, an employer must inform a candidate that they are collecting personal information about them, explain why the information is being gathered and let the candidate know who will see the information that has been gathered.  

How do I perform a Social Media Background Check?

While it is possible to run Social Media Background Checks in house, doing so not only takes valuable time, it may also open a business to potential legal ramifications. There is some information that can be gleaned from social media that is considered protected by entities such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the US, or Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in Australia. This information includes factors such as:

  • Age
  • Citizenship status
  • Disability
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Marital Status
  • Pregnancy or children's status
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation

To avoid potential problems, it’s advisable to use a third party. Social media checking companies typically omit protected information from reports ensuring that relevant laws aren’t being breached.

Depending on the vendor, Social Media Background Checks may be performed by a human team or automated with a human overseeing the process. How long a check may take varies on a case-by-case basis, factoring in the number of social media networks being examined, and how far back the check goes.

What other verification checks can be conducted? ‍

Social Media Background Checks are typically conducted in conjunction with a number of other pre-employment background checks, such as:


Due to the amount of time people spend on social media, and the information that is shared on a daily basis, Social Media Background Checks are becoming more and more common. If you are considering integrating Social Media Background Checks into your hiring journey, remember to inform them early in the process and get permission before the check begins.

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