There’s plenty of information that appears on your public record to give an official account of your identity and history, but social media adds a new piece to an already complex puzzle. If you’re unsure of whether background checks into your social media history yield relevant information to employers, landlords, or other authorities, today’s guide is for you.
Just about everyone has a presence on social media these days and, if you are honest, there are probably more than a few things that you have posted or tweeted over the years that you wish you hadn’t.
But what are the chances of these social media posts coming back to haunt you? Are employers really interested in something you posted on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook ten years ago when you were a student? In other words, are social media background checks really relevant?
It is a complicated question to answer, but in this article, we are going to address some of the key issues around it. We are also going to give you some tips on how to keep your social media background check clean, and also how to check exactly what a social media background check on you might reveal.
Given the ubiquity of social media these days, it would be easy for people to assume that anything they post on sites like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram is quickly lost in the ether and will never come back to haunt them. This is a very dangerous assumption.
Once you post something onto the internet, it is always there for someone to find. Even if you quickly delete a post, archiving services such as the WayBack Machine have probably already preserved them for posterity.
There are numerous examples of people who have failed to secure a job or been fired from a job as a direct result of posts them have made on social media. Some prominent examples include:
- Nikolaos Balaskas – A professor at York University in Canada who was fired after posting and then reposting anti-Semitic comments on Facebook.
- Justine Sacco – A PR executive at IAC who in 2013, before boarding a flight to South Africa wrote on Twitter “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” By the time her flight had landed, she had gone viral and been inundated with messages including one from her boss telling her she was fired.
- Lara Kollab – A 27-year old medical resident at the Cleveland Clinic. Lara had posted a string of anti-Semitic posts online including one vowing to give Jewish patients the wrong medication. When the posts came to light, she was fired and The Cleveland Clinic vowed to run background checks on all staff in future.
- Connie Levitsky – A part-time worker at plus-size fashion chain Addition Elle who wrote on Facebook that her job was “Conquering the world, one well-dressed fat lady at a time.” She was immediately fired, and while she did win an employment tribunal, she never worked for the company again.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg but serve as a reminder of how a careless or innocuous social media post can cost you a job or more. Social media might be omnipresent these days, but that doesn’t mean that what you post on it matters any less.
What is a background check?
A background check is an online service that searches through all publicly available data about you to compile a comprehensive report about you and your history.
There is an astonishingly large amount of publicly available data held about every single one of us. In the pre-digital age, these records were hard to access and time-consuming to search through. Now, they can all be accessed online and modern algorithms allow background checking sites to search through hundreds of thousands of records in mere seconds.
The type of data a background check can reveal is extensive and includes:
- Employment records
- Work authorizations
- Criminal records (state, county, and city)
- Education history (high school and college)
- Financial records
- Credit history
- Driving record
- License details
What kind of checks can search social media?
All of this data comes from government-controlled databases that the public has a right to access. But, there is another big source of data that we actually construct ourselves. It can include images, detailed personal information, and much, much more. We are, of course, talking about social media accounts and profiles.
There are two main types of background checks that you might find yourself subjected to:
- Consumer background checks. These are the checks carried out by employers into job applicants, landlords into prospective tenants, and certain other professional bodies. They are regulated by various pieces of legislation and there are limitations on what information they can and cannot access.
- Public background checks. These are the sites that anyone can access online and which are able to dig up all sorts of information about people. There are fewer regulations governing these searches, but they can generally access less information.
Both types of background check are able to access are social media accounts, so don’t assume that it is highly privileged information that only a few niche services can parse.
What social media posts will a background search find?
The majority of public and consumer background checking sites will identify any social media account tied to a person and list them in their reports. This list will include all of those accounts a person is currently using and also any accounts on a service like MySpace that might still be online even if the person hasn’t used it for years.
The truth is that most background checking sites won’t look too much deeper than this. They might put some social media account details into their final report, but most won’t search through individual posts. That’s not to say that bosses or HR staff won’t take a look at these accounts to get a feel for the type of person you are. But if they do this, the chances are they will only go back a few weeks into your account and anything further back is likely to remain hidden.
There are specialist social media background checking sites that will search through all your old posts for relevant or controversial content, and highlight them to a prospective employer. These types of searches only tend to be run by certain companies and for certain roles, but if it is used, it will be pretty comprehensive. Just be aware that inadvertent post will have nowhere to hide, even if it was posted years ago on a long-forgotten account.
How to clean up your social media account
If you are worried about what might be lurking on your social media accounts, there are a few things you can do to clean them up.
- Run a background check – The first is to run a background check on yourself using one of the sites we have recommended in this article. This will show you the type of information that will appear when someone else runs a background check on you. It will reveal any old accounts you have forgotten about and also the extent of your current social media accounts that will be revealed.
- Delete old accounts – If you do have any old accounts you no longer use, you should delete them. They are not only a potential risk for your job application but could have long-term privacy implications for you as well. Yes, the data from them might remain on the WayBack Machine, but most employers will not go to the effort of searching that deep for an old social media account.
- Clean up existing accounts – It is worth going back through the social media accounts you do still use to clean up anything on there that might be problematic with your new boss. That can seem like a big job but the reality is you don’t usually need to go back through your entire account. As long as you clean up the previous few months’ content, you should be ok. However, if you are in a high-profile role (such as a politician) be prepared for someone to go through all your accounts to try and find something.
- Use anonymous accounts – The best way to ensure that your social media content doesn’t show up on a background check is to use an anonymous account. If you have an account with a handle that isn’t directly related to you, doesn’t contain personal information, and isn’t registered to an email address connected with you or your own name, there is no reason why a background check should show this account up.
FULL GUIDE: How to send fully anonymous emails
Your social media accounts, especially those accounts you might have long-since stopped using, can reveal all sorts of things about you. Like everyone, you have probably posted things you regret, or stupid things when you were drunk or angry, and then forgotten all about them. But if your new boss sees them, it could give them an unfair impression of you. It is, therefore, an extremely good idea to run a background check ahead of applying for a job to see exactly what information about you might emerge.
There are a lot of background checking sites on the market and choosing the best one can seem almost impossible. That’s why we have been testing all the most reputable background checking sites, to see which is best. We have narrowed the market down to two sites which we felt were head and shoulders above the rest. They are:
Instant CheckMate really can turn around a background check faster than any other site we tested. Impressively, these speeds do not come at the expense of accuracy, with our tests finding Instant Checkmate unerringly accurate even when we only input basic details.
The final reports used by Instant Checkmate look fantastic and layout all the information they have unearthed clearly and concisely. Searches are managed through a desktop dashboard that is also well-designed and simple to use. There are also impressive apps for iOS and Android devices available too.
Instant CheckMate costs $34.78 per month or you can choose to pay $27.82 for a three-month subscription. At these prices, Instant CheckMate isn’t the cheapest service around. But if speed is your priority, there are no better sites out there.
TruthFinder is a background checking site that specializes in accuracy. As the name suggests, getting to the truth is its priority and it has developed a terrific reputation for generating reports that are both comprehensive and impressively accurate. We tested TruthFinder with misleading and inaccurate data and found it had an uncanny knack of still being able to generate the right results.
TruthFinder’s desktop dashboard is superb; it looks great and allows even novices to manage all their searches with ease. The mobile apps are great too and the final reports that TruthFinder uses to present its results are easy-to-read but still detailed and well laid out. It all handles like a premium service, despite the affordable price of $27.78 monthly, or $23.02 per month if you sign up for 2 months at a time.
A big selling point for TruthFinder is its customer support. This is provided on a toll-free number and is available around the clock. In our tests, the team always proved to be helpful and responsive. With all of this available at competitive prices, TruthFInder is another highly impressive site.
Yes. It is perfectly legal for a company to run a social media background before hiring you and many do so, either as a separate exercise or as part of a broader employment background check.
There are some things related to social media background checks that can be illegal. It is illegal in many states to ask for user’s social media passwords and as an applicant, you should never hand these over.
It is also illegal for companies to look at your social media accounts and then not hire you on the basis of something that could be considered prejudicial, such as your ethnicity or your sexuality.
But most social media checks will only look at publicly available content and will be carried out by a professional background check provider in compliance with regulations and this is all perfectly legal.
No. It is up to you how you set up your social media sites but if you make your account private, there is no legitimate way that your prospective employer can see your account.
It is still advisable to be careful what you post though because there are some unscrupulous employers or HR staff who might access your account via a mutual friend or even try and hack their way in.
Other reasons to run a background check
There are a number of different reasons someone might want to run a background check on you including:
- Employment checks – Most employers will run a background check on prospective new hires before offering a job. They want to check that their resume is accurate and that there are no hidden secrets in their past that might exclude them from the job.
- Criminal checks – A lot of people have suspicions about a person in their neighborhood, their office, or some other part of their life. If you have a bad feeling about someone, a background check is a quick and simple of checking if someone is hiding a secret criminal past. It will reveal if anyone has a criminal record or anything else in their past which might be a concern to you. And it will give you the results fast.
- Tracking down a lost family member or friend – Everyone has someone from their past who they wish they hadn’t lost contact with, whether it be an old flame, a long-lost cousin, or a best friend from elementary school you have lost contact with. A background check is a terrific way to track them downno matter how little information you have about them.
- Checking your own records – Running a background check on yourself is a great way to get one step ahead when you are applying for a job or a new apartment. It will reveal exactly what information about you is available in the public domain, including from your social media accounts. That way you can always be prepared for anything your new boss might throw at you in an interview.
Social media background checks are as relevant today as they have ever been. Your social media accounts reveal a huge amount about the type of person you are, as well as confirming many personal details about you.
Social media accounts will show up on a background check but it is unlikely that your entire account will be searched unless you are applying to certain jobs or certain companies that do this as standard. But there is nothing to stop someone using a background checks links to flick through your accounts themselves.
In this article, we have recommended running a background check on yourself to see what accounts show up. We have recommended the top three sites to use for this and also given you some tips on how to clean up your account.
Have you ever been fired or failed an interview because of your social media accounts? How have you dealt with inappropriate content on your own accounts? It is always helpful for our readers to get real-life advice from their peers so why not share your experiences with them using the comment box below.