Those photos on Facebook showing you palling around with drunks, the raunchy joke you posted on Twitter, and those links to politically incorrect groups on your personal Web site —all of this information can now become part of your job application and employment record.
The practice of employers checking employment, criminal and credit histories of job candidates is apparently no longer sufficient. A California company is helping employers collect information about job candidates and employees from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and wherever else on the Internet the person may have posted information.
“We not only review the social networks; it’s the two-thirds of user-generated content that doesn’t fall into the category of Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace,” said Max Drucker, co-founder and CEO of Social Intelligence Corp., in an interview with Insurance Journal. “We review blogs. We review bulletin boards. We review the microblogs. We review comments in forums. We really are looking for anything out there, personal web pages, anything out there that a person can create themselves and has posted publicly, into the public domain, online.”
Drucker sees his service as a risk management tool for employers, helping them avoid liability for negligently hiring someone who later turns out to be a real mismatch, or worse. Post-hiring, it helps keep employees in line with a company’s media policy.
Companies are already scouring the Internet for information on job candidates and employees, but they may not be doing so efficiently or thoroughly, according to Drucker. What’s more, they may be exposing themselves to liability by identifying information they shouldn’t consider in hiring, such as age, race or religion. Social Intelligence acts as an “arms-length third party” to do the web searching for employers.
“[T]oday essentially all companies in the Fortune 500 do some form of a criminal background check. I don’t see this as any different,” says Drucker. “You have an obligation to your existing workforce and your customers to not make negligent hires, and this gives you the opportunity to do this, without the risk that goes into doing that thing yourself.”
After Social Intelligence’s computers comb the Internet for the information, at least three people at the firm review the results, according to Drucker. They customize their reports, giving employers the information they want while blacking out anything that is irrelevant to the job under consideration or that is illegal for employers to use in hiring such as if someone is pregnant or has a medical condition. If there is an objectionable photo, they describe it to the employer without actually including the photo in the report since that could disclose a person’s race, age or other irrelevant characteristics.
By blocking certain information, his service benefits job candidates as much as it does employers, Drucker contends.
“We only provide solutions that are about protecting the job applicants from discrimination and, in turn, by doing that, you’re protecting the employers of allegations of discrimination. You’re giving them a fair hiring practice,” he told Insurance Journal.
“And we are coming from the approach of protecting that job applicant from potential discrimination or being evaluated based on things that are online that either, A, they have no control over, or B, simply are not relevant to the job.”
He says Social Intelligence functions as a consumer reporting agency under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Thus, he said, anyone who has suffered “adverse actioning”— been fired or not been hired—has a right to a copy of the report and an opportunity to correct any misinformation.
Drucker is surprised at what some people will post to the Internet.
“It’s ridiculous. I mean, we see this stuff all day, every day. People that are applying for jobs, people that have even posted their resumes online, that have these alter egos, doing things that represent them very poorly, and could, in turn, create a lot of risk for that company,” he said.
Social Intelligence is not just interested in embarrassing or negative information. “There’s looking for the objectionable material, but we’re also looking for positive attributes,” he says, citing such things as participation in industry-leading blogs or charitable organizations, or if someone has a lot of Linked-In contacts.
Drucker’s social media monitoring service can be continued post-hiring, too. Bosses may request email alerts if something questionable about the company or a worker appears on the Internet.
Social Intelligence will also monitor employees’ use of the Internet and social networks—to see if they are posting derogatory comments about the company or fellow employees..
“It’s critical that their employees adhere to what their media policy is, which is, of course, don’t give company secrets, and don’t talk about the company in this forum or that forum. Don’t have pictures of you doing a thing like shooting or drinking while wearing a company logos,” Drucker said.
Drucker is no stranger to insurance. He previously co-founded an insurance web application company named Steel Card that ChoicePoint acquired a few years ago. While he thinks insurance firms are prime candidates for use of his services in their hiring, extending the use of Internet monitoring beyond hiring and into underwriting is probably not doable now, although it could happen in the future.
Right now, however, what does look promising in the insurance space is using social network and Web monitoring for fraud detection, following people who file disability, workers’ compensation and other insurance claims.
“[T]hat’s one of our areas that we are exploring,” he said.
Just as his firm promises to protect employers from being sued, he is well aware his own firm is exposing itself to privacy critics, if not to potential lawsuits, by poking around in individuals’ web spaces.
“Look, all companies need to worry about being sued, at some level, for whatever the reason and we certainly understand that we’re going into a new space that may be treated as controversial,” he said. He hopes that by “making every effort, in every single way, to adhere to all the laws” and by focusing on protecting job applicants, his firm should be in a safe place.
“But, of course, I have no idea of what may happen in the future,” he said.