How Facebook & Twitter posts can work against you

BY: Emmanuel Adinkrah

Social Intelligence runs social media background checks for potential job candidates, so the company is alerted to potential problems or issues that might be considered contentious.

While this is something that many companies practise when they’re recruiting for jobs, Social Intelligence formalises this service, making it more official and visible for candidates. Thus, this happens in jurisdictions where the rights of the computer user are duly recognised by law and due consent from the jobseeker obtained to undertake this service.

Is it right? For many, this might seem like a wholly unreasonable question. After all, what you choose to do online is your own business – the photos you share, videos you record and updates you write are on your own time, in your own social domain. 

The only problem is that this information often happens very publicly, unless you’re extremely savvy about your privacy controls. And the inherent risk for your company is that information found online is then revealed perhaps to other employees, stakeholders, customers or clients, and the company itself is implicated. 

Given that others can access your information; will prospective employers choose to ignore it? Or rather, if the same things were revealed during the interview process, will it affect the decision to give you the job or not? Of course, social media background checks are not just used to look for the negative, but also to discover facts that might further prove their suitability for the job, or the strength of them as a candidate. This is positive, but the risks when finding the negatives are far greater and it poses a difficult problem for recruiters.

The difficulty comes down to the fact that it’s subjective. What you’re posting on your social media, profiles might seem acceptable to you, but unacceptable to the prospective employer. 

Nude pictures and racist remarks

Examples given by Social Intelligence for cases where people haven’t been offered the job include uncovering nude pictures posted online, and people making racist remarks or joining groups that clearly show their prejudices.  

Again, if this information was revealed during the interview process, you’d likely be shown the exit. But because this information is accessed online, without the candidate directly revealing it, it throws up many problems.

The difficult fact is that while this social information is yours, once it hits the public domain, it can be accessed by anyone and, in a sense, owned by anyone. It’s worrying to think that companies can build up complete social profiles of you (albeit with your consent) that can cover every single reference to you online. The more of our time we spend online, the more and more information we build up publicity that can be interpreted in the wrong way.

Something we posted online two years ago may in no way be a reflection of our character now. We could have sent drunken tweets, or even had friends pose as us online, joining groups or writing status updates when logged into other accounts.

This shows that social media ‘checks’, if they are to be run, need to be considered carefully. While companies may be able to access countless information about someone online, it’s not necessarily their right to use this to determine someone’s suitability for the job. The context in which social information is shared is important, and what this check actually does is discriminate against people who might be more active on social media, and who would  have produced more social information to be accessed.

Privacy settings

Checks like these are possibly too ahead of their time, as we are still getting used to how social media fit into our lives and affect our relationships with others. Using this information against someone who is applying a job may be too drastic, before that understanding is developed.

If you’re still not using any of the privacy settings on Facebook, here’s the most compelling reason why you need to change that as soon as possible.

While it may be disheartening for job seekers, and those who wish to advance their career, the wisest thing to do is to carefully disguise your identity when it comes to personal forum participation. Protect your personal brand.

Avoid putting anything that can be considered incriminating or objectionable on the Internet.  Establish strict privacy settings on all your personal social media sites.

Do not let friends and family post photos or videos of you that would be objectionable.

If you have already put information out there that could impact your career, see if you can have it removed by the website administrators. If something comes up that is inappropriate, it could be someone else that posted it with a name identical to your own.  In this case, you can let the company know that you are not responsible.  However, if there is a photo of you, you will have to acknowledge your involvement.

I see this new practice as being fraught with problems for both companies and job seekers.  While obtaining good intelligence and conducting due diligence background checks may be vital to corporate security, there is a thin line between using this sort of information for good rather than for discrimination. The potential for abuse is very real, to say the least. The Safest way is to protect yourself as a brand.


The writer is a Co-Founder & CEO, Ghana Internet Safety Foundation

Writer’s email : This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.