As digital connections become increasingly integrated into our personal and professional lives, the line between the two is often blurred, posing a unique puzzle for HR professionals: to conduct background checks on social media or not?

A survey by CareerBuilder found that 70% of employers are already using social media to screen candidates. Among them, a whopping 54% have claimed to have found content due to the social media background check that caused them not to hire a candidate.

In Canada, the laws are not explicit, leaving much room for interpretation and making this practice a balancing act between the employer's risk management needs and the candidate's privacy rights.

4 Benefits of Social Media Background Checks

1. Enhanced Candidate Evaluation

Social media can offer valuable insights into a candidate's personality, interests, and communication skills, helping HR managers gain a more comprehensive view of potential hires beyond their professional qualifications.

2. Culture Fit Assessment

Social media platforms can provide an informal lens through which you might assess a potential hire's compatibility with the company's values and culture based on their interests and activities.

3. Risk Mitigation

Social media background checks can help identify any red flags or potential risks associated with a candidate's behaviour, such as discriminatory language, harassment, or engagement in illegal activities. This is important because an employee's personal actions can sometimes affect the employer's reputation. These types of screening help identify issues early on, potentially averting future reputational damage.

4. Verification of Qualifications

HR managers can verify candidates' qualifications, work history, and professional affiliations through social media platforms. Any discrepancies between a candidate's social media activity and the information provided during the hiring process can alert the employer of potential dishonesty or deception.

4 Disadvantages of Social Media Background Checks

1. Privacy Concerns

Conducting social media background checks may infringe upon candidates' privacy rights, potentially leading to legal repercussions if not handled carefully. Any non-consensual activity can potentially lead to legal implications.

2. Unreliable Information

Information on social media may not always be accurate or up-to-date. Relying on such data can lead to biased or unfair decisions about candidates. Whatsmore, the existence of fake profiles on social media platforms introduces the risk that any information obtained could be incorrect or falsified.

3. Implicit Bias and Potential Discrimination

Screening social media profiles can unintentionally reveal protected characteristics about a candidate, such as their race, religion, age, marital status, or sexual orientation, which could increase the risk of unconscious bias or allegations of discrimination.

4. Legal Compliance

Canadian HR managers must comply with privacy laws, human rights legislation, and employment standards that might govern the use of social media in hiring processes.

4 Steps to Start Implementing Social Media Background Checks

1. Establish Clear Policies

Develop comprehensive and transparent policies outlining the purpose, scope, and guidelines for conducting social media background checks. Ensure that all stakeholders, including candidates, are aware of these policies. Ensure consistency in how social media checks are performed and evaluated so that all candidates are treated fairly and equally.

2. Standardize the Process for Relevancy

Limit the use of social media to publicly available information directly relevant to the job and avoid accessing private or sensitive data. Look for qualities and behaviours that directly relate to the job's requirements and avoid making judgments based on personal or non-job-related factors. Maintaining a record of the process and decisions made based on social media information is also recommended.

3. Ensure Compliance with Canadian Laws

Canada's privacy laws differ across provinces, and a national standard has yet to be agreed upon. Some provinces, such as Alberta, British Columbia or Quebec, offer guidelines with recommendations and safeguards that private and public employers should consider when conducting social media screenings.

4. Consider Third-Party Screening

Engage third-party companies specializing in social media screening to minimize potential biases and ensure compliance with privacy laws.

Leveraging technology will ensure that your findings are complete and that nothing was missed. It also helps to ensure checks are impartial and not impacted by the opinions or beliefs of the individual administering them.

As we can see, while social media can provide additional insights into candidates, taking into account these benefits with potential risks, such as privacy concerns and biases, is essential. A well-defined policy, clear guidelines, and staying updated with legal changes can help balance information needs and privacy rights.

Do you conduct social media screenings to find the best candidates? Share your experience with social media background checks in the comments section! 

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