In May of this year, the FTC said a company called Social Intelligence could start conducting background checks on employees’ Internet and social media history. There was outrage when the decision came down, as hard partiers and borderline offensive jokesters started to mentally scan through every photo, tweet, and incriminating blog post floating around in cyberspace. Gizmodo recently tested the service on six of its own employees and learned some lessons worth passing on.
The good news is, Social Intelligence reports are only looking for "aggressive or violent acts or assertions, unlawful activity, discriminatory activity (for example, making racist statements), and sexually explicit activity," according to Gizmodo. This means that their results do not include any sort of photos that are recognizably the job applicant. Further, anything that might indicate the applicant’s race is blacked out. The reports also black out anything irrelevant, but that could still cause an employer to make some sort of value judgment, such as a line from one Gizmodo employee’s website, which reads, "I drink too much beer." Social Intelligence also only digs up information on the candidate using information provided by the employer, usually just the information on the candidate's resume.
Social Intelligence’s mode for screening candidates is seemingly systematic, and though there is room for interpretation (like what exactly is considered explicit?), the company makes an effort not to expose anything more about a candidate than is necessary. In fact, the bad news here could be that some employers do employ social background checks, but take the matter into their own hands to do so. In such scenarios, an unfiltered Google search could lead a candidate to be unfairly judged due to information that would normally be considered off-limits for an employer, such as the candidate’s religion or sexual orientation. The takeaways from Gizmodo’s experiment are: get a new e-mail address just for job applications, if you want to be extra safe, lock up your Facebook profile entirely or use an alias, and most obviously, avoid posting naked photos anywhere in cyberspace.