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Would You Pass A Social Media Background Check?

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on November 23, 2012 in Internet |

It is a well known and accepted credo that business and pleasure should never be mixed, that a person’s private life shouldn’t intrude on their daily work, that an office affair is bound to end up going the wrong way with bad feelings, a bad working atmosphere and nothing but stress. When someone leaves their office at night, closing the door behind them, the work should remain there, totally separated from the outside world. For some such a credo is difficult to follow, our modern society, the demands of some trades and business concerns require that a person in a managerial position, for example, be constantly available, constantly with heart and soul in their work no matter where they are, what they may be doing or what time of day or night it is. The mixing of private and business life, however, has been taken a step further in recent times, with the advent and expansion of social media.

Social media is designed to provide a communication tool between social groups, people who share the same interests, family and work colleagues outside of working hours. There are few companies which allow the use of social media networks during office or working hours, unless it fits within a job description or is required to promote company interests, so it should be rated as a pure leisure activity. In recent years, however, more and more companies have taken to checking the backgrounds of potential employees through social media networks or keeping an eye on the activities of employees and their daily or regular use of various Internet platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

There are various justifications for such activity: to ensure a potential employee is trustworthy, honest and fulfills the company profile; to ensure that a person is who they say they are; to protect the integrity and image of a business interest; to protect the good name of the company; to check on potential or actual approaches towards employees by headhunters or employees of other businesses in the same branch seeking inside information; to verify claims of illness or similar by absent employees.

Such checks on social media usage fall into a gray area of what is legal and what may not be used to judge or rate a potential employee before or during the job application process. Likewise the checking of social media networks after employment is considered by many to be a necessary evil, but not one which would hold up in a court of law unless a serious breach of company policy, such as internal privacy and secrecy contracts, or the law of the land can be proven. Despite concerns over privacy and the misuse of information which might be found on some social media networks, the practice is widespread and gaining in popularity. Potential and present employees should no longer ask themselves whether a company is likely to check on their Facebook page or Twitter account, but whether what is available for public consumption is suitable should a company representative chance upon it.

A background check can take various forms and is not limited to just an employer. Courts, the police, security agencies, insurance companies, banks and even school authorities checking on parental suitability might also at one time or another check the social media entries for families and individuals. News stories highlighting the ineptitude of thieves offer a clear example of how a social media platform can be used against someone: photographs of the crime scene during a robbery; of the items stolen; of weapons; ego-boosting entries in a status update. Likewise a story brought concerning an employee claiming unfair dismissal can be turned against them when photographs or status updates highlighting their activities, parties attended or abuse against the company and work colleagues appear. Such news items are no longer unusual, and several news agencies make it a policy to check the main social media networks to gain information on victims and criminals – or suspects – and enhance their reporting with a few juicy personal details.

In order to see whether a social media page or site could withstand a background check by either the authorities or an employer and secure it, the user needs to take certain simple steps: check the privacy settings on the entire page, how much information is available to an unregistered user, to a casual visitor, to search engines; check what information is available to certain groups of friends, whether work colleagues are given the same access as close friends and family; check what personal information, including status updates and photographs, have been copied or transferred to other profiles with a lower level of security or open privacy settings. Here it should be noted that the authorities – various security agencies, the police and the courts – are likely to have a far wider range of access possibilities than a work colleague of an employer.

For profiles which include comments on work, work colleagues, the company that employs or might become an employer in the future: what is the company policy on social media networks; how trustworthy are colleagues who have access to the site; how trustworthy are casual online acquaintances as opposed to real life friends; are there photographs of a party the night before an absence through sickness and who can see them; are there posts or status updates which could be considered harmful to the employer’s interests or which are abusive, detrimental or reveal business secrets, or which might be considered abusive towards work colleagues and superiors. Anything which might be considered a breach of company policy, of good taste and general social standards when it comes to business interests will probably not survive a background check.

The above also applies to those seeking employment in a specific industry or trade with a new employer. In addition the profile user should ensure that wild, revealing or risqué photographs are not publicly available, that anything which might indicate unsuitability is either removed or completely hidden from view and anything which might cast doubt on their ability to complete a job, to remain loyal to a company or to maintain the company’s integrity is likewise removed. Such items can also include abuse or personal comments against a previous employer or work colleagues, a potential employer could assume this to be a trait which will repeat itself.

The best method to ensure a social media profile will withstand a basic background check is to either withhold anything from publication which might be considered in anyway anti-social, detrimental to work ethic, abusive against employers, businesses or colleagues, or to set the privacy settings so high that only the most trusted personal friends have access to everything. At the same time, privacy settings should not be set so that nothing can be seen: it is possible to fail a basic background check by creating the impression you have something to hide.

Finally: the best way to judge a personal social media profile is to look at it from the point of a view of the strictest judge, the most conservative employer imaginable or a mother-in-law. If it passes all three tests there is a good chance it will pass any other background check.

  • Viktoria Michaelis.
This article was originally published on EzineArticles.

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