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In this age of technology, it is not unusual for companies to include a criminal background check or a credit report scan in their hiring practices. Employers may even conduct searches for their potential employees on Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or other social media websites for more insight into their lives or personalities. The importance of professionalism online has never been so apparent; inappropriate or objectionable content has cost many a job applicant a desirable position.

Some organizations are now formalizing the process of doing social media background checks on prospective employees. A new start-up called Social Intelligence will compile comprehensive information on a job candidate from what is publicly available on the Internet, including positive materials such as honors, accolades and volunteer work, as well as negative evidence such as sexually explicit photos, racist comments and references to drugs or violence.

The company claims that its services are much more accurate and more secure than doing a search for an employee on Google, which can confuse the candidate with someone else or expose employers to information that isn’t legally allowable under federal employment laws.

From Social Intelligence:

Using social media for pre-employment background screening is a double-edged sword, a benefit that can also be a liability. Social Intelligence℠ Hiring effectively removes the liability, leaving just the benefit for both employers and job candidates.

Social Intelligence℠ Hiring ignores information that is not allowable in the hiring process, such as the “protected class” characteristics defined by federal anti-discrimination law (race, religion, national origin, age, sex, familial status, sexual orientation, disability status, and other qualities that are not allowed to be used as decision points). Therefore, job candidates are protected from discrimination based on these characteristics and, in turn, employers are protected from charges of discrimination.

In a New York Times interview, Max Drucker, chief executive of Social Intelligence, said only about a third of the material found comes from the major social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. The majority of negative data is found through more extensive online searches that scour Craigslist, bulletin boards, discussion groups, e-commerce sites and comments on blogs. If a job candidate’s behavior online demonstrates she doesn’t value the importance of professionalism, a company may decide she would not be a welcome addition to the team.

From the New York Times:

And what relevant unflattering information has led to job offers being withdrawn or not made? Mr. Drucker said that one prospective employee was found using Craigslist to look for OxyContin. A woman posing naked in photos she put up on an image-sharing site didn’t get the job offer she was seeking at a hospital.

Other background reports have turned up examples of people making anti-Semitic comments and racist remarks, he said. Then there was the job applicant who belonged to a Facebook group, “This Is America. I Shouldn’t Have to Press 1 for English.” This raises a question. “Does that mean you don’t like people who don’t speak English?” asked Mr. Drucker rhetorically.

Social Intelligence is in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, according to the Federal Trade Commission, but some privacy advocates are concerned that the service may be intruding into the private lives of prospective employees.

Do you think a social media background check should be part of the hiring process? Would you use a service like Social Intelligence to screen job applicants, or do you think a person’s online presence is irrelevant to job performance? Share your opinion.

Learn more about the importance of professionalism in EDSI’s Professional Presence in a Casual World course.

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