Law Enforcement Agencies Turning to Social Media Investigations

A recent USA Today article highlights the growing trend of using social networking profiles for background screening. The piece, titled, “Police Recruits Screened for Digital Dirt on Facebook, etc.,” details how many law enforcement agencies are combing thorough social networking profiles of applicants to gain a more holistic picture of a candidate’s background.

A study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the largest group of police executives, surveyed 728 agencies and found that more than one third of the police agencies review social media activity as part of the employment screening process.

Some agencies even require that candidates submit passwords, e-mail and Internet pseudonyms, and even text message, and e-mail logs to facilitate the social media investigation process. And applicants must sign a waiver that states they understand their social networking profiles will be used as part of the screening process.

For many privacy advocates and the police unions, the practice of social media screening raises red flags. They fear that delving into online behavior to investigate candidates has gone too far.

Those who advocate using social media in the screening process site examples where they were able to disqualify candidates whose social networking information revealed such things as past suicide threats, sexually explicit behavior, and racially charged commentary.

The Social Media Investigation Minefield

As a background screening company, you can probably guess that we have a point of view about this subject.  First, it’s true that social media has opened up a whole new world of potentially valuable information for employers to gain insight into the behavior, mode of living, and character of their applicants.  However, it also represents a potentially enormous minefield  for employers who make use of the practice.

Read our recent blog post that discusses some of the issues surrounding social media investigations.

In the end, employers have many things to address when considering a social media investigation.  Here are just a few:

  • Job Relatedness: Do you have a legitimate job-related business reason for your use of social media in the screening process?  Just because you find something doesn’t necessarily mean you can use it. For this reason there are times when you may be  better off not knowing.
  • Employee and Applicant Rights:  Anti-discrimination and privacy rights exist to protect the public from many of the very actions that could be taken as a result of an improper social media search.
  • Alternative Measures: Is there any other way you could learn what you want to learn about your applicant without the use of social media?  If so, don’t take chances.  Gather the information elsewhere.

In the end, if you are serious about wanting to incorporate social media searches into your employment screening process you’re going to need a company-wide approach that is legally-defensible and consistently-applied.

Read our recent blog post that discusses additional issues surrounding social media for employment screening.

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About Michael Gaul

A security industry professional since 1988, Michael has extensive expertise in the fields of human capital risk management, physical security, and background screening process management. Michael leads Proforma’s sales, marketing, and strategic customer relations efforts.
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