Background Checks for Hiring & Screening on Facebook

Dear Potential Employer, Please Access My Social Network

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Dear Potential Employer, Please Access My Social Network

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Background Checks for Hiring & Screening on Facebook

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*Updated * Learn more about the move to create a job seeker social media privacy bill in California below . . .

Background Checks for Hiring & Screening on Facebook

Free online background checks sound great to employers, but not when it tramples employee rights. Unfortunately, that  is a new trend in that is happening in the world of work.  Hiring managers, recruiters, and human resource professionals are asking a new interview question, and it’s one you might not expect.  This question isn’t illegal, yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.  Companies are asking perspective job seekers for access to their personal and private information online.  They are asking, “Can I have your Facebook user ID login and password?”

I am disgusted, but I am also not surprised by this break in social media privacy.

Companies have been using social networking sites as a form of free online background check for a while now..  I first heard about using MySpace to vet candidates in 2006 at a local employment law conference in Oklahoma City.   I’ve written about in great detail recently about mitigating risk of corporate social media and solutions to that risk opened up by the use of social.  I coined the term Social Media Discrimination, and this my friends is another chapter in the many ridiculous ways companies are using social networks as a form of background check to disqualify candidates.

Can Accessing Facebook for Hiring Result in Abusing Employee Rights?

There is such a thing as social media privacy. A person’s social media accounts are theirs and not accessible for viewing by their employer or potential employer at least in this situation.  If a current employee’s social network is part of a lawsuit or employment law litigation that is a different story.  There is a process to gain access and the right circumstance for this to happen, and that is not during the job interview.  Of course, we are in uncharted legal waters, so that process to obtain and the precedents changes every single day.  Exciting for the law field but extremely confusing for employers and HR.

I’ve long advised job seekers to lock down their social networking profiles or not to post information or messages that can shine light on them personally and professionally negatively.  Private messages on Facebook or direct message on Twitter just like email and texts are never private.  You are relying on the receivers of that information not just yourself to keep those messages confidential, and this isn’t always a safe bet.  But for job seekers to provide access to a potential employer to Facebook during a job interview is an unwelcome invasion of privacy that is not right.

Then again, if a potential employer asks for access to my social network during my job search, they’ve made my job search decision process easier.  They are not an organization in which, me as an employee, will flourish or demonstrate a healthy company culture based on respect and trust.  That, my friends, is not a place I wish to work.

Employer Access to Facebook is the New Illegal Interview Question

As HR professionals, we train and ensure that our managers abide by laws put in place to protect not only the employer and the employee’s rights.  These illegal interview questions include questions like, “How old are you?” or “Are you pregnant?”  or “Do you have a car to drive to work?”  These also are the types of information that people happen to include on their social networks.

Companies who ask to access candidate and employee social networking profiles have access to specific information that when used to make hiring and promotion decisions are illegal.  Some of this information is only accessible to the account holder via their user login.  When a company accesses the private account of a candidate, they are asking for a big, fat, seven figure employment lawsuit, and that job seeker get a fit, fat, seven figure payday . . .

Because in the Facebook account settings of my private profile are included confidential and private information including my age, sex, religion, and other protected information.  Using my privacy settings I can keep this information private when outsiders view my profile, but when an employer has user access, they see the whole enchilada.  So on second thought, I hope a company asks to access my personal Facebook account, my blog, and even my email.  Please, do so because I need a pay day, a big, fat, seven figure payday, and with your help I can do that in a very, big way.  Because if you do, I see my own private island and a new career as an angel investor in my future.  Dear Employer, Please, Please Please Access My Social Networks. 

California Senate’s Social Media Privacy Bill # SB 1349

As of 3/23/12 at 2:30 PM CST: California State Senate is moving to introduce a bill to keep this trending employment practice from happening.  The California Senator, Leeland Yee, is seeking job seekers who have been a victim of such a social media privacy breech request. He’s looking to pass SB 1349 by January 1, 2013.  You can connect with Yee at his California State Senator Site.  Facebook’s privacy policy  has also taken a stance due to the recent media coverage.

Check out the AP article that inspired this post and the recent coverage by Mashable on more Social Media Job Seeker Legislation.

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  1. Self-employment just keeps looking better. What kind of paranoid, corporate, bean counter, power-hungry company wants to do that?

    1. Brad,

      I agree with you. Why would I want to work for a company like that, and I don’t think that most generation employees want to either. The creme employers will rise to the top and the rest will be left in the dust.

      Thanks for your comment.


  2. Yet people blindly allow 3rd party apps to have access to their FB “everything”…

    As I’ve said earlier today on Twitter, I’ll give you every username/password combo I have as long as (a) I’m present when you look at it, (b) so is my attorney, and (c) you give me yours – after all, I’ll bet you didn’t have to show yours when YOU were hired.

    1. Great answer! As a person who is currently looking for a new opportunity, this is exactly how I will answer that question if asked. Granted, I’m currently employed and any company that would ask this would be scratched off of my list.

    2. I LOVE this… It reminds me of when someone says at the top of a phone call, “This call is being recorded.”
      I always reply with, “Yes, I am recording it, too…” The caller doesn’t understand and I usually have to repeat myself several times, “Yes, that is what I said…, I am recording this call, too.” They usually ask why and I say, “Well, if it is important enough for you to record, perhaps I should, as well.”
      About that time, the caller hangs up..

      Turnabout is fair play.

  3. NEWS FLASH. Giving out your login information to a third party DIRECTLY violates Facebook’s TOS, if you do not only are you a moron BUT you are violating your agreement with Facebook, and THAT is against the law.

    1. Hi Nate,

      Yes, giving out information violates the Facebook TOS but it’s unlikely that the Facebook police will be doing anything any time soon. Even if you were to report an offender, you submit some lame form via their website to report the violation. Their customer service isn’t very friendly and I don’t expect reporting a violation to be any friendlier.


  4. Great post. IMHO anyone who willingly provides passwords, social security numbers or any other private information without first being convinced of it’s job relevance (and then only after receiving a written offer citing the data need and rationale), deserves exactly what they get.

    That being said it is interesting how this has become hyped. I’ve read the articles that set off this firestorm of comment but can’t find any mention of firms other than government Sherriff’s offices and the like even thought the titles and intro content refer to and imply ’employers’ of all sizes and stripes seem to be into it.

    A quick poll of large, highly competitive firms suggests this entire issue is a non-starter for Fortune 1000 which doesn’t make it any less onerous to candidates if it is happening in smaller firms. I’m a fan of keeping the discussion in the context of where the problem is.

    1. Gerry,

      Thanks for the comment. In my experience, many of these request have come from those government funded agencies like the ones mentioned in the AP article. In my own experience, this is a practice that is also increasing in small businesses who have no HR team or legal council to guide them. A manager or owner has a problem with an employee in the past and so the mitigate any future damage, they request access to Facebook accounts. Employers or candidates don’t complain or report the TOS violation mostly because they have little understanding what rights they have as an employee or candidate.


  5. Thanks Jessica. It falls to you and others with considerable candidate following to educate and hopefully advocate for selection criteria that correlates with the job and avoids the personal issues.

    In our society I can promise (to take one small example) that surrendering your password to a recruiter who then can see the excited discussion between you and your friends over your discovery that you are pregnant would be sufficient to win a lawsuit that you could retire on. It is simply stupid recruiting and not worthy of discussion in most firms.

    Perhaps some of the chambers of commerce would benefit their constituents by hiring you for a training session on how to use and not abuse social media in recruiting and HR.


  6. True but it gives you a nice answer if someone asks you the question, if they continue to push I’m sure there is some lawsuit in it for you.
    “I told them they asked me to breach a contract, TOS, but they asked me to do it anyways, and when I refused they didn’t hire me”

    It only takes one folks, find me a company that does, I’ll apply, and sue them for you. The issue is that too many people sit on the sidelines and expect that someone else will do the work.

  7. I am with you Jessica. This is an autrocity and for employers to expect a job seeker to relinquish their login and password information is an absolute breach of ethics on the part of the employer. Is this what we have come to!

    Similarly, I have an acquaintance who told me of her job interview experience a few weeks ago. At the first F2F interview, she was asked to take a lie detector test. This company is not a government agency, sub-contractor for the government and does not deal in high-security information as in the financial industry. She wisely declined the lie detector test and left the interview. By the way, she was interviewing for a position in marketing with a CPG company.

    1. Cyndy,

      That is crazy but then again companies are desperate to lower their turnover and employee un-productivity costs. Lie detectors aren’t illegal but they do give the candidate an interesting take on how the leaders view the trust factor within their organization. It also doesn’t say much for the candidate experience.

      Thanks for commenting. Appreciate you taking the time to add to the discussion.


  8. You’ve done a great job showing how the counterintuitive response is the reaction these demands will create. I get the sense the line between common sense (checking references) and paranoia–which tends to create a self-fulfilling prophecy–is getting blurred in hiring.

    A former boss in an unrelated field was doing some hiring and asked if there was a way to see all the “for friends only” content on applicant Facebook profiles without having to “friend” them first. Although I was not involved in HR at the time, I advised him quite strongly on ethical grounds that he did not want to go down that road. And now look what’s happening!

  9. I heard about this happening & was like my life is an open book & I am weekly offered new jobs with the “next new cool .com” & I often take on more than one project at a time under full disclosure. I don’t have anything to Hide & I like to work for my money so I don’t sue people & I’m not looking for a free payday. If thats what you want just file for welfare. If you like money & nice things & want that particular job I’d give them the login to my “business” Facebook with a 10 minute time limit & I’d probably charge them for it, about $100 a minute due prior to access. And I’d be present & it would be on my laptop. Just my 2 bucks worth

  10. I am glad that I read this article. I will be ready with a response if it ever happens to me. That really does not sound like a place I would want to work. If they are crosssing boundaries before I am hired I can only imagine how much more disrespect and abuse they will pile on when you work there.

    1. Sylvia,

      Yup, your comment pretty much sums up how I think a lot of employees feel that are not in a desperate situation to work for a job that doesn’t trust or value them. Thanks for the comment.


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