Facebook: A snoopers paradise…

NOTE: Just taken part in a great blog talk radio conversation about this subject. My post was written before the conversation and I don’t feel the need to change my opinion! On the contrary, I feel even stronger now.  What shocks me is how we seem to so easily accept the prejudice nature of this activity and the damage it can do to diversity.

Great show though!

My post:

My morning commute was never so interesting!  What started as a comment on Twitter rapidly turned into a heated debate around the use of social media to ‘reference/background check’ a candidate who is up for a job.

Firstly, lets cut the hype and get to the real deal here – what exactly do people mean, and what exactly are they looking for/at when they say ‘checking’ on social media?  I have to say that I’m struggling to answer that particular question as in amongst the all the comments from that lively exchange, no one actually said.

What I did hear were alarmist comments about BNP members, sex offenders, drug addicts and criminals. Don’t we have the Criminal Records Bureaux for that already?

Before social media existed, employees/candidates were not in the habit of making statements such as:

‘Great night out with the lads last night, whipping up a bit of racist torment down in Brixton’


‘Damn, left my syringe and heroin wraps on the bus’.


And they are not about to be announcing their deviant status on facebook either.

Referencing the hysterical extremes adds nothing to the debate and only distorts the context of the discussion.

So if we take these out, what’s left?  LinkedIn is, amongst other things, part of my professional footprint and as such it’s a totally legitimate destination for a recruiter to look for information related to my ability or suitability for a particular role.

Next?  Well, given the current social media take up, for the moment that really only leaves the mainstream tools including facebook/myspace, twitter and my blog, if I have one.  (Help me out here #SMEG’s if I have missed anything 😉 )

And what are we going to select against here?  My opinion on life, and the universe from my blog/tweets? Pictures of me pulling funny faces/out on the lash on my facebook page (If you can find them)? The fact that I’m a member of the ‘I hate Mondays’ group on facebook??  (I’m not by the way – just in case any small-minded recruiters are looking!)

Looks like after cutting the hype we have boiled ‘social media background checking’ down to snooping around looking for pictures of your target and or making subjective judgements on an individual because they have aired their views online, either in a blog, a twitter stream or a comment on someone elses blog.

Is this it? Are you really telling me that as a recruiter you are going to be making an assessment about me and my fit for an organisation, based on those things?  Then shame on you.

For years we have been banging on in corporate circles about breaking down barriers at work, especially between leadership and the ranks.  On the one hand we have been spending £m with consultants trying to find out how we can encourage employees to bring their ‘whole selves’ to work, instead of ‘leaving their personalities at the front gates’.

Search Google and you will find pages and pages written about employer branding and the need for ‘authenticity’ and ‘honesty’ in the corporate message.

And yet here we are, snooping around people’s non-work lives and making serious judgement calls based on subjective and inappropriate assessments about them on those very things.  It’s lame and will only result in individuals sanitising the way they communicate if it doesn’t stop.

In the future, will the two ‘twentysomethings’ sitting nearby who are friends on facebook, judge each other by what is written in their facebook profiles or the pictures contained within? I doubt it.  FB is their way of communicating the very same things we used to (And still do).

Back then though our only way of sharing this stuff was verbally, in the pub, at a dinner party or at the office Christmas do.  Which we considered normal.  Just because there is a new place to store my social, private, ‘me’ which happens to be more accessible to the general public, doesn’t mean its right to make a call on my employability based on it.

What next?  Issuing prospective candidates with portable video cams to take home for an evening so they can submit a ‘what I’m like at home’ video?  I can hear it now:

“We can’t hire him, he didn’t say please when he asked for the jam.”


  1. Great post Gareth. I get the feeling when I occasionally browse through forums like Personnel Today that employers are more bothered about the hour upon hour that their workforce fritter away on facebook and the like when they should be working. At some firms they simply block access to such sites to overcome the problem. As far as trying to get an idea of someone’s personality based on their social media presence that’s at best a bit daft and at worst, as you say, shameful, if not possibly open to litigation if it was ever proven that someone didn;t get a job because they didn’t like the picture of them and their mates on a stag weekend in Dublin! It’s no way to judge an individual.


  2. Gareth

    Sat on a tube with nothing else to do but reply!

    Once I’d got past all your hype I agree that people will not be entirely judged by what people find on an FB profile but you could at least be realistic if you are going to create further debate.

    I think it is fair to inc social media as part of your background checking as long as it is used sensibly. You may even see positive elements so maybe focus less on the negative aspects of people?

    For example, I have met you (once) so can see your online persona is not (I think) entirely representative of the person I met so what should I think? Smart recruiter or psychotic blog bolier?


    NOTE: written on my mobile so typos are not reflective of me ability to spell!!


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