Are Social Media Background Checks a Good Idea?

by Chris on November 14, 2011

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter do more than help people connect. These sites offer employers and landlords a peek into an applicant’s background.

But is the information from these sites all it is cracked up to be?

The Federal Trade Commission, the agency responsible for enforcing consumer protection laws like the Fair Credit Reporting Act, is raising concerns about businesses who rely on social media for applicant background checks.

In fact, the FTC is telling businesses who use social media for screening employees, and the Credit Reporting Agencies that might provide these reports, that all the rules that apply to credit checks–like having a legitimate business reason for seeking the information, and disclosing any negative information to the applicant, also apply to information obtained on the Internet.

Why the concern over information that is readily available online? The FTC warns businesses that the information obtained may be inaccurate, or at the very least difficult to verify due to some common scams:

Online identity theft is rampant, and can include fake Facebook pages or websites.

Cyber-slamming, a sort of online defamation, is widespread because it is easier to stay anonymous online, and therefore avoid the legal consequences of ruining someone’s reputation.

It is more difficult to determine if you have the right person, or whether you are compiling info about another person with the same name.

The information discovered may be protected by discrimination statutes or privacy laws. Once you have the data in your file, it is harder to deny that it played a role in the decision to reject an applicant.

The FTC also raises the question of whether individuals should be accountable for what they say online. After all, a statement may not be true–it may have been intended as a joke, or an exaggeration. Is it fair to reject an applicant over information they reveal in their private lives?

Many employers and landlords would say so. They may view negative actions on the Internet as an indication of the person’s true nature.

Yet, the FTC fears that there is little regulation of these types of background checks. For instance, so far there is no clear guidance on how an applicant can go about correcting their Internet identity in the same way they can fix an inaccuracy on their credit report.

Undoubtedly, the FTC will come up with additional regulations. For now, they advise businesses conducting background checks to treat unverified Internet info with some skepticism–and don’t assume everything you find out in Cyberspace is fair game.  Better yet, play it safe and use a reputable Credit Reporting Agency like TVS Tenant Verification Service for running tenant background checks.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports

Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

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