Return to the glossary

Social Media Background Screening

Definition: Social media background screening, or popularly “social media background checks,” is reviewing an individual’s social media profiles and online presence as part of the background verification process during pre-employment checks.

The primary goal is to gain additional insights into a candidate’s character, behavior, and compatibility with the company’s values and culture.

Employers use this type of screening to identify any potential red flags or behavior that might be deemed inappropriate or contradictory to the organization’s values and mission.

This can include discriminatory remarks, inappropriate photos or videos, evidence of illegal activities, or any information that might suggest a potential for workplace disruptions.

Key points about social media background screening

  1. Common platforms that might be scrutinized include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and personal blogs or websites. However, the scope may vary based on the position and company.
  2. Legal Concerns: There are legal risks associated with social media background checks. If an employer makes a hiring decision based on protected class information (e.g., race, religion, disability, etc.) found on a social media profile, it may be viewed as discriminatory. Employers must ensure that they follow local regulations and laws regarding privacy and employment.
  3. Consent: In some jurisdictions, employers might need to inform candidates that a social media background check will be conducted and possibly obtain their consent.
  4. Authenticity: There’s a risk of misidentification, as many individuals might share the same name. Employers need to ensure they are reviewing the correct profiles. Additionally, not everything on social media represents factual or current information, so conclusions should be drawn cautiously.
  5. Bias: There’s a risk that personal biases might influence decisions when reviewing a candidate’s online presence. For example, a recruiter might have a personal disagreement with a candidate’s political views, which should not factor into the hiring decision.
  6. Limitations: Some profiles might be private or have limited visibility. In such cases, an employer typically cannot compel a candidate to provide access.
  7. Comprehensive Evaluation: Social media background screening should be just one part of a broader background check process. It provides a snapshot of a candidate’s online persona but doesn’t necessarily offer a complete picture of their character or work ethic.


Why do employers conduct social media background checks?

Employers may use this type of screening to identify potential red flags, such as inappropriate behavior, discriminatory remarks, or evidence of illegal activities, to assess a candidate’s compatibility with the company’s culture and values.

Which platforms are typically checked during this screening?

Common platforms include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and personal blogs or websites. The exact platforms checked may vary based on the position and the company’s policy.

Is it legal to conduct social media background checks on potential employees?

While it’s legal in many jurisdictions, there are potential legal risks. Employers must avoid making hiring decisions based on protected class information and should be aware of privacy and employment laws in their region.

Do candidates need to be informed about the screening?

In some jurisdictions, employers must inform candidates if they intend to conduct a social media background check. It’s always good practice to be transparent about the hiring process.

Can employers ask for passwords to private profiles?

In many places, asking for passwords or private access is prohibited. Employers should never compel candidates to provide access to private content.

What if the information on social media is false or outdated?

Social media doesn’t always reflect accurate or current information. Employers should approach information found online with caution and give candidates an opportunity to address any concerns.

How can employers avoid bias during social media screening?

Employers should have a clear policy and specific criteria for what they’re looking for. Screeners should be trained to focus only on job-related concerns and to ignore personal or protected class information.

What happens if negative information is found on a candidate’s profile?

Employers should have a consistent policy on how to handle such discoveries. It’s crucial to communicate with the candidate and allow them to explain or provide context.

Is social media screening done for every job position?

Not necessarily. Some employers might conduct these checks only for specific roles, especially if the position involves a significant online or public presence.

How can candidates prepare for social media background screening?

Candidates should review their online profiles, adjust privacy settings if necessary, and be aware that their public online activity can be viewed by potential employers.

Does social media screening replace other forms of background checks?

No, it’s typically just one component of a comprehensive background check process, which might also include criminal records, employment history, and reference checks.