Social Screening or Social Sleuthing? Why Recruiters Should Stay Away From Facebook

It’s no secret that recruiters often use the internet to screen potential new hires. But with tight privacy controls on social media sites allowing users to lock down their information, there is often little “dirt” to be dug up.

In recent months some employers have begun asking for applicants’ Facebook log-ins and passwords as part of the interview process; a practice that has stirred up quite a bit of controversy. In response to the uproar, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, Erin Egan, released a statement that soliciting and sharing of passwords is a violation of the sites’ terms of use.

While some recruiters may feel that checking social media channels is necessary, requesting an applicant’s Facebook password will likely do more harm than good. Running background checks is a process that is rife with red tape, and this is just another example of why they should be left to professionals.

“For example, if an employer sees on Facebook that [an applicant] is a member of a protected group, that employer may open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don’t hire said person,” Egan said.

Facebook by its very nature is a platform for “oversharing”, and user profiles alone can contain a plethora of private information. The option to list age, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, and relatives is standard, and all of these pieces of information are disallowed in the recruitment process.

While many Facebook users are aware of the unsafe nature of posting inappropriate content online, the site’s highly customizable security settings allow them to post photos, updates, and messages that can only be viewed by a select group of people. The popularity of “social media background checks” in recent years has made most users more aware of what information should walled off, which is why recruiters have begun to resort to requesting login information from job applicants.

Facebook has yet to take legal action against recruiters but they’ve made a promise to their users that they will if the problem gets out of hand. “We’ll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action,” Egan said.

Meanwhile, when screening candidates, recruiters should make sure that their practices help them make informed hiring decisions; not place them at risk for litigation.