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Social Media Screening: Is It Here to Stay?

Date Published: August 29, 2023 | Last Updated: February 16, 2024 | By Rebecca Forsyth

With privacy laws constantly changing, will social media screening continue, or will it become ever more legally problematic for employers to review this element of a candidate’s personal life? Piers Hutchinson, Head of Compliance at Accurate, discusses limitations and future trends we can expect to see in the world of social media screening.

The digital behaviour of candidates is becoming more and more relevant to the recruitment process, and as a result the nature of an individual’s online personality is now seen to be almost as important as the skills and experience listed on their CV. As such, social media checks are emerging as an increasingly used tool for businesses looking to understand the character of the candidates they are making offers of employment to.

Many people seek to be publicly visible online as they look to share their own ‘personal brand’, thoughts, and opinions with the world – and most of the time there’s no issue with this. Only when an individual crosses into engaging in undesirable or illicit content does their own reputation, and that of their employer, have the potential to come into disrepute.

The latest figures from Neotas, who work in partnership with Accurate to conduct social media screening, found that over 43% of social media content screened within April 2023 – May 2023 contained inappropriate or undesirable content which could pose a threat to employers’ reputations.

So, while most people using social media do so in a positive and responsible way, it’s also not uncommon to see instances of malicious communications, cyberbullying, trolling, virtual mobbing, advocation or re-posting of extreme views, and illicit or illegal activities. There are potential consequences for employers hiring individuals who openly partake in such activities online, including reputational damage to the company, their clients, and their employees. Social media searches help employers identify instances where candidates and current employees are publicly visible in a less than desirable manner, allowing businesses to take appropriate steps to address risks, advise individuals and protect their reputation in the process.

It’s hugely important to have a robust social media policy in place, to make sure prospective and existing employees are aware of any social media screening checks being utilised during the onboarding or general employment process. Since the launch of our own social media screening services, Accurate has seen clients routinely providing candidates with upfront information around social media screening, as the searches require candidates to consent to checks.

All social media platforms now offer privacy filters as an option, but this doesn’t mean social media screening won’t be able to pick up on certain content. Even if an individual makes their profile private, if they’re bullying, harassing, or swearing at a person whose profile isn’t private, or on an otherwise public page, then this can be picked up during the social media screening process.

Privacy laws are, however, changing all the time, with some countries exploring options including self-sovereign identity as the next step in personal protection. This in turn means there are a few things which need to be considered with regards to social media screening, including the fact that associated practices aren’t going to be accepted in some countries as a result.

In response, Accurate advises employers about local laws in each country they are operating and hiring within, and recommends they consider any additional guidelines or measures, delivering specialist country-specific and sector-specific expertise.

France, for example, has a relatively narrow view of what it deems appropriate to screen for during the employment process, with French labour law stating that any information requested from applicants must only be used to assess their ability to hold the job offered based on their professional skills.

On the flip side, countries like The Netherlands see social media screening as an increasingly important aspect when looking to hire an individual. The College Bescherming Persoonsgegevens has produced a check list entitled ‘Screening, Internet and Social Media’, recognising just how relevant such checks are, and providing prospective employers and employees with a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ in rolling them out.

Looking to the future, therefore, we can expect social media screening and re-checks on current staff to become an annual activity for the majority of employers. The fact remains that instances of employee wrongdoing involving social media continue to rise and are increasingly being picked up in the press and reported to the public, causing significant reputational damage to their employers in the process.

Increasingly, globally focused businesses are looking at social media as something which is crucial to determining the suitability of individuals for roles. The use and importance of social media checks is rising internationally, becoming accepted as a requirement across many roles and industries.

Want to make social media screening part of your recruitment strategy? Talk to us: ukenquiries@accurate.com.