Social Media Background Checks: What You Need to Know Before You Hire


HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Monday, February 27, 2023

It's good to learn as much as you can about a candidate before hiring them. One particularly valuable source of information that shouldn't be overlooked is social media.

Article 4 Minutes
Social Media Background Checks: What You Need to Know Before You Hire

Hiring an employee is a big commitment. A significant investment of time and money is required to identify, evaluate and onboard new additions to your workforce.

It's crucial, therefore, to know as much as you can about prospective recruits before agreeing to employ them. One of the various ways to go about collecting this information is through social media background checks, but make sure you know what this process entails before committing to it.

What is a social media background check?

Social media background screening is a method employers can use to collect more information about a candidate when evaluating whether they're a good fit for the organization or a particular role.

It's often used to look for red flags and warning signs that could lead to an individual being immediately eliminated from the hiring process.

Many employers now use this method, with research showing that 71% of recruitment decision-makers in the US believe looking at social profiles is an effective way to screen applicants.

When to run social media background checks

The wisest course of action is to wait until the final stages of the hiring cycle to conduct a social media background check.

Your initial assessments of any candidate should rely on traditional methods such as reading resumes and conducting interviews to determine whether they're sufficiently qualified for the job.

Once these processes are complete and you have a good idea of the applicant's skills and experience, you can use social media to build a fuller picture of their personality, behavior and suitability for your company.

Are social media background checks legal?

Broadly speaking, yes, social media background checks are legal. However, it's important to ensure you're managing the process in the right way and not breaking any rules, particularly local laws and regulations in the territories where you operate.

In the US, for example, laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or employee because of personal characteristics such as:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • National origin
  • Age
  • Disability

If you're accused of collecting personal information such as this in a social media check and using it as a reason not to hire someone, you could face severe penalties.

The EEOC states that pre-employment inquiries should be restricted to information that is essential to determining whether a person is qualified for a job.

What can social media reveal about potential candidates?

Social media checks on job candidates can highlight serious red flags around their personal conduct that will heavily influence your decision about whether or not to hire them.

For example, an examination of an individual's comments and posts on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter could reveal:

  • Racist or discriminatory opinions
  • Illegal activities such as drug use
  • Violent behavior
  • Online bullying

Clear evidence of any one of these could be enough for you to decide that you don't want this person to be a member of your workforce.

The pros and cons of social media background checks

If you're undecided about whether social media background screening is a good option for your business, it's worth considering the pros and cons.


  • A more detailed picture of prospective employees and their suitability for your business, reducing the risk of a bad hire
  • Protection from damage to your employer brand, which could occur if you employ someone who has engaged in illegal or morally dubious behavior
  • Better understanding of applicants' interests and personalities, which could lead to a smoother onboarding process and more rapid professional development


  • Allegations that personal information collected from social media has been used to discriminate against certain applicants could lead to legal problems
  • Candidates could take a dim view of employers 'snooping' around their social accounts during the recruitment process
  • It can be time-consuming to search through multiple social media profiles looking for information that might be relevant to your hiring decision

Best practices for conducting social media background checks

1. Be consistent

It's vital to take a uniform approach across all candidates. Running background checks on some applicants but not others could expose you to accusations of discrimination.

2. Inform candidates

People applying for jobs with your company should be made aware that social media screening could take place at a certain point in the recruitment cycle. This should be clearly documented in your hiring policies to maintain full transparency and protect the business from complaints about underhand practices.

3. Only look at public profiles

Only information that is publicly available on social media should be included in your background checks. Never ask for access to profiles that candidates have chosen to make private.

4. Delegate checks to the right people

The task of conducting background screening should be given to HR professionals who can do it with complete impartiality. Ideally, they should have had no contact with the candidate beforehand, so they can go into the process with no existing biases or assumptions about the individual.

Sticking to these practices will help you get the best results from your social media background checks and, ultimately, make the right hiring decisions for your company.

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