A new startup is offering a unique service for employers, that may come as unwelcome news for jobseekers. Social Intelligence runs social media background checks for potential job candidates, so the company is alerted to potential problems or issues that might be considered contentious. While this is something that many companies practice anyway when they’re recruiting for jobs, Social Intelligence formalises this service, making it a lot more official, and visible for candidates.
In the case of Social Intelligence, job seekers are required to submit to the test as part of the job application process. Information gathered is then passed onto the recruiter, omitting details such as religion or marital status (which should not be asked during an interview process).
Is it fair?
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For many, this might seem like a wholly unreasonable ask. After all, what you choose to do online is your own business – the photos you share, videos you record, updates you write, are on your own time, in your own social domain. The only problem is that this information often happens very publicly, unless you’re extremely savvy about your privacy controls. And the inherent risk for the company is that information found online is then revealed perhaps to other employees, stakeholders, customers or clients, and the company itself is implicated. Given that they can access this information, would organisations choose to ignore it? Or rather, if the same things were revealed during the interview process, would it affect the decision to give the person the job or not? Of course, social media background checks are not just used to look for the negative, but also to discover facts that might further prove their suitability for the job, or the strength of them as a candidate. This is positive, but the risks when finding the negatives are far greater and it poses a difficult problem for recruiters.
The difficulty comes down to the fact that it’s subjective. What you’re posting on your social media profiles might seem acceptable to you, but unacceptable to the prospective employer. Examples given by Social Intelligence for cases where people haven’t been offered the job, include uncovering a Craigslist ad for Oxycotin, nude pictures posted online, and people making racist remarks or joining groups that clearly show their prejudices. Again, if this information was revealed during the interview process, you’d likely be straight out the door. But because this information is accessed online, without the candidate directly revealing it, it throws up many problems. The difficult fact is that while this social information is yours, once it hits the public domain, it can be accessed by anyone and, in a sense, owned by anyone.
While there is no easy answer here, the social checks run by Social Intelligence do verge on the side of over-policing. It’s worrying to think that companies can build up complete social profiles of you (albeit with your consent) that can cover every single reference to you online. The more of our time we spend online, the more and more information we build up publicly that can be interpreted in the wrong way. Something we posted online 2 years ago may in no way be a reflection of our character now, we could have sent drunken tweets, or even had friends pose as us online, joining groups or writing status updates when logged into other accounts.
This shows that social media ‘checks’, if they are to be run, need to be considered carefully. While companies may be able to access countless information about someone online, it’s not necessarily their right to use this to determine someone’s suitability for the job. The context in which social information is shared is important, and what this check actually does is discriminate against people that might be more active in social media, and who will have produced more social information to be accessed.
Checks like this are possibly too ahead of their time, as we are still getting used to how social media fits into our lives and affects our relationships with others. Using this information against someone for something like applying a job may be too drastic, before that understanding is developed.