Hopefully most people now understand that anything they put in their social media profiles could wind up in front of a potential future employer through an online background check. What many people may not realize, however, is that everything they put on social media (which is publicly available under their privacy settings) can be archived by third parties for up to seven years, for the explicit purpose of background checks -- even if the individual has deleted the content in question from his or her own account.
All this came up last week following the Federal Trade Commission's investigation and approval of a startup called Social Intelligence Corp., which does exactly that. The FTC determined that Social Intelligence Corp. was operating within the bounds of the law when it created "cached" archives of social media profiles for review by employers, including potentially damaging photos and statements. According to Social Intelligence Corp. CEO Max Drucker, the company focuses on screening social media profiles for the usual suspects -- racist remarks, sexually explicit content, pictures with guns, knives, or other weapons, and other illegal behavior (think bongs).
There are limits on how employers may use archived social media content, however. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, companies are required to tell prospective employees (or, say, credit applicants) that they are going to perform background check and obtain their permission to do so. Also, companies must tell the applicant about any damaging information they find online.
Of course none of this really blunts the basic impact of the archived social media background checks. First of all, individuals will probably hesitate to withhold permission for an online background check, fearing it will endanger their chances of getting a job. And while you can delete damaging content that's still up on social media sites, there's not much you can do about content that was captured years ago and archived by a firm like Social Intelligence Corp.
True, the FCRA also requires companies like Social Intelligence Corp. to run a new report every time the client asks for one -- and it's possible they'll neglect to ask for previous versions. But on the other hand Social Intelligence specifically flags any damaging content (meaning, anything which results in a company deciding not to hire someone) in the individual's file for seven years. So prospective employers will see the individual's new, cleaned-up Facebook profile... but also the incriminating stuff they're trying to hide.