In the past decade and a half, social media has transformed from a futuristic form of communication to one of the basics of human interaction. Email is no longer the sole platform for individuals and even businesses to communicate through. Sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and personal blogging sites such as Tumblr are allowing people to share their thoughts and themselves with others in new and increasingly public ways. However, the values we place on privacy have transformed with this change as well. Many users of the Internet expect to be able to put up whatever they want online, but also want the ability to keep that information private from select individuals. This is especially the case when a potential employer is involved. This past May, the Federal Trade Commission gave a company called Social Intelligence permission to begin running background checks on Internet and social media history. Quickly following the decision came the panic from some on the World Wide Web; fears of privacy-smashing laws and violations of the right to free speech and privacy began to circulate online. However, the majority of people simply want to know what exactly a Social Media Background Check would entail. The facts might surprise you!


When the news first started reporting on the decision by the FTC, the general fear of the public was that such background checks would focus on material such as pictures that showed someone’s intoxicated spring break escapades or the embarrassing pictures from a bachelor party that got a little out of control. The truth is that a social media check doesn’t pass on that kind of information. The mainframe of a social media background check screens for, among other things: aggressive or violent acts or assertions, unlawful activity, discriminatory activity (an example would be a racist comment made on a site), and sexually explicit activity. In fact, most checks do not pass on any identifiable photos at all.

Another interesting aspect of a social media background check is that it screens only with the information given by the employer. This means that companies that do social media checks can only search their databases using the email given to the employer, in most cases the email on a potential employee’s resume.


Preparing Yourself for a Social Media Background Check

There are a few smart, easy steps that you can do to create an online portfolio that will pass a vigorous background check:


One of the first things you should do is go through any Facebook, Shutterfly, Flickr, or other media-sharing sites to self-screen your photos. While most photos are not passed on to potential employers, some things that can be flagged are photos that show anything that could potentially be deemed as ‘questionable’. According to an article by Vivian Luckiewicz, this can be “photos where you are dressed just a little too skimpily, as well as anything that makes reference to drugs, firearms (even if you own them legally), underage drinking, and even smoking. Any photos that portray you as immature, such as photos of you giving the middle finger or wearing T-shirts with inappropriate language, should also be removed.”


Another important aspect of online screening is searching comments, blog posts, even tweets, to search for potentially damaging material. Read through current websites and blogs through the eyes of an employer; censor any information that could seem racist, sexist, offensive, or even culturally insensitive.  Posts of this kind could be detrimental to a job search.


If you spend some time polishing your online identity, it can only be positive in the long run. As social media becomes more and more mainstream, more and more employers will begin to use it as a basis for hiring.