A growing number of companies are migrating to a controversial new way of screening potential candidates called social media screening. These techniques such as force-friending, shoulder-surfing, and asking for passwords have fresh talent wondering where this practice falls morally. Each tactic is broken down and defined below:

  • Force-friending is the act in which employers demand to be “friends” with potential new employees on social media sites in order to view their personal content, to determine if they are, in fact, a good fit for the job. If an interviewee fails to comply, he is then no longer considered for the position he has applied for.

  • Shoulder-surfing is where the employer uses direct observation techniques to secretly watch from a distance as a candidate logs into his account, which then allows HR to peruse posts from his friends or any questionable photographs that might be viewable on the interviewee’s profile page. Any activity HR personnel deems questionable (such as negative comments about a current or previous employer, possible drug use, or risqué photos) is an instant disqualification from the position the interviewee is applying for.

  • Asking for passwords is yet another step a number of employers have begun using in order to screen candidates, many of the which feel it goes too far with regards to the candidate’s privacy rights. In certain states, it’s already illegal to demand passwords from interviewees in order to gain access to social media sites and for good reason, too. Not only is it an invasion of privacy for the potential employee, but it also could cost the employer fresh talent.

Forcing Access to Social Media Sites Hurts Companies

Sacrificing one’s privacy in order to gain employment to provide food for his (or her) family is bad enough, but an employee may allow the invasion of privacy because he needs the job so desperately. This only further leaves the candidate with a sense of not being trusted, which might also discourage him from friending co-workers. And while it will cut down on negative speech regarding a new employee’s boss, or the company as a whole, over the Internet, it won’t stop employees from speaking badly about the company to friends and/or family members in person or over the phone.

Forcing access to social media sites also poses the potential for legal ramifications as well. Social media giant Facebook is staunchly against companies scouring their profiles to gain more information about potential employees, vowing to pursue legal actions should a company be caught in the act.

In parts of the US, 18 states have banned social media screening through anti-snooping bills. These states include: Washington, California, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. Some states have even introduced fines for companies that choose to use social media sites for snooping purposes. These fines range anywhere from $500 to $1000 just for forcing someone to reveal postings on his personal social media accounts.

The Consequences of “Snooping”

There are many risks that employers face when choosing to run social media background checks. The act of snooping on a potential candidate could mean losing out on fresh talent if he or she refuses to cooperate with a check. Employers might also accidentally discover a person’s protected characteristics such as religious affiliation or the person’s age. Furthermore, using social media to determine a candidate’s compatibility for an open position within an employer’s company may not be an accurate portrayal of the person, which makes social media screening irrelevant.