Federal regulators gave Social Intelligence Corp., or SIC, the green light to screens job applicants based on their Facebook and Twitter postings, elevating the growing reach and importance of social media.
The Federal Trade Commission said SIC was found to be in compliance with the government’s “Fair Credit Reporting Act,” meaning information posted online, including Facebook, Twitter and blogs, among others, are fair game for background checks for job applicants.
And the kicker is, SIC can keep its information on file for seven years.
Employers have long been Googling candidates, and employees can take measures to clean up their acts, delete information and change privacy settings, but this development may change all that.
Geoffrey Andrew, SIC’s COO, said any negative findings are kept on file, but are not reused when a new employer runs a check, and stressed that the company is not building a database of information on people.
For example, if a person is flagged in an SIC search for possibly joining a racist Facebook group, the finding may remain in the person’s file for seven years, in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The information, which will remain in the file, even if it is removed from the Internet, won’t be available for new employer searches.
“We store records for up to seven years as long as those records haven’t been disputed,” Andrews said in an e-mail to Forbes. “If a record is disputed and changed, then we delete the disputed record and store the new record when appropriate.”
The company mines data from Facebook and Twitter, professional networking sites, blogs, wikis, and video and picture sharing websites. Job applicants must acknowledge and approve of the social media background check, just as is current practice with criminal and credit checks. And if something is found that blocks employment, the employer must inform the applicant.
The news illustrates how social media isn’t just for socializing anymore. The legal community looks to the sites for ammunition in divorce cases and is even exploring its use to serve papers for legal proceedings.
Get behind on some payments and watch out, because debt collection agencies are also combing social media sites for information on their clients.
So news that now even employers can tread on the same places as friends, boyfriends, wives, playgroup moms and sports buddies with very little filter between them may be worrisome, but is hardly surprising.
Just as the lines between online and virtual worlds are blurring, so are those between the public and the private as information on social media sites, which may be posted for one reason, may be used for many others.