Is social media influencing background checks?

Google. Love it or hate it, Google has changed the way we live, work and play in the 21st century. Google has influenced more online behavior than any other other tool in the past ten years. While there have been many search tools before Google dominated the space, Google has emerged as the search engine of choice for millions. Why is search important? At last estimate, 85% of all online behavior begins with a search of some sort. What are people searching for online? Chances are they’re searching for information about you and me.

With the power of search at our fingertips, any person with a connection to the World Wide Web can find out just about anything he or she desires. In fact, many social networks, like Facebook and MySpace, encourage free-flowing behavior where information, sometimes private, can be shared within your trusted network. But how can you trust the network when you can’t control what other people do with your personal information?

With unemployment rates at an all time high, hiring managers are looking for ways to cut the stack of résumés to a manageable handful; and your social networking profile might be helping them do just that. Heidi Dent, Chief Financial Officer at Hirease, Inc., a North Carolina based company specializing in background search and applicant tracking weighs in, “If applicant information is posted on the Web, that information becomes public and usable by the employer.” In other words, if your private information is in the social space, that information is now considered public. If that private information includes personal identifiers, i.e. your birthday or other names you use, then your social profile can, and in most cases will, be used in a background search. Dent continues, “Applicants need to consider what they project about themselves and the potential for their behavior to be considered a liability for their employer.” and are both on demand search tools available to any consumer who wishes to conduct a background search. All that is required is a valid credit card and a few pieces of information about the person being searched. Unlike the consent process used by most full-service applicant tracking companies, like Hirease, consumer-based searches do not typically require previous consent to conduct the search.

Apparently, law enforcement officials are keeping up with these technological shifts in the pursuit of would-be lawbreakers. In November, 2009, the La Crosse, Wisconsin Police Department used incriminating pictures that were uploaded to a Facebook profile page as evidence in an underage drinking bust. “Law enforcement has to evolve with technology,” said La Crosse police officer Al Iverson. “It has to happen.” He continued. Cassie Stenholt, a teen confronted with Facebook photos of her drinking, pleaded no contest and received a ticket and fine. “I feel like it is a breach of privacy,” Stenholt said of the use of Facebook photos as evidence. “You feel like you should be able to trust cops.” With photo sharing social networks like Flickr and Photobucket, and location based social applications like TripIt and TriOut, people are opening their social activities to anyone with access to their social network. Unfortunately, for some, their own social networking behavior is being used against them.

Before social media proliferated traditional news, journalists relied on “fact checkers” to vet information before it could be mass reported. Today, information is “tweeted” (a 140-character blurb that is posted on the micro blog-based website called Twitter), in mere nanoseconds, seemingly without regard to whether the source is credible or not. In the interest of expediency, we have leveraged social networks and blogs to help ensure that the latest news and any breaking updates that we can’t live without are always in our face.

In business, we vet potential vendors, suppliers and partners. Sometimes we vet board members, volunteers or anyone who might need to act on behalf of the company. Why is vetting important? Because we want to know that you are who you say you are. The comprehensive nature of vetting often includes private investigation services and social networking monitoring to ensure that an accurate profile of the person is developed. Dent explains, “As more and more people utilize social media in their personal and professional lives, the greater the propensity is to evaluate their social media behaviors.”

There is no doubt that popular search engines like Google and Bing have put the power of information within reach. Whether you agree with how our online behavior is being viewed, used and leveraged or not, one point is irrefutable. We are responsible for what we say and share online – so share responsibly.

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