Site reveals social media flaws to employers

by Amy Devito

Courtesy of Social Intelligence
Courtesy of Social Intelligence

There was once an unequivocal line between office space and social life. People always had the liberty to keep the worlds divided, until now. For a year now, the Social Intelligence Corp has been raiding potential employee profiles to scope out any undesirable qualities or possible liabilities that may jeopardize a company’s reputation.

Any employer can contact this agency to have them sift through social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and Google+ to expose pictures, status updates and comments of potential employees. Even as a consumer reporting agency that is in strict compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, many are beginning to question the ethics behind the operations of this enterprise.

After all, is it completely fair and impartial to compare what one does during their free time to what they present in a professional setting?

Marc S. Rotenberg, president of Electronic Privacy Information Center, said employers are entitled to gather information to determine job-related expertise, but he expressed concern that “employers should not be judging what people in their private lives do away from the workplace.”

Before the rise of social media, employers could only use interviews, background checks and drug screenings to ensure a reliable and trustworthy person for a position. Now, job seekers are more vulnerable to having their private lives leaked, and some may not be too pleased. Peering into an individual’s intimate, day-to-day life may seem too invasive.

Although many companies would rather not hire without doing some research, the purpose of social media is for one person and their selected set of friends to keep in touch. Nevertheless, that leaves a certain amount of ambiguity when it comes to pictures from a party or a vulgar posting on someone’s wall.

So what exactly is the criteria companies are scoping out within the vast canvas of social media? A corporation can peer into any website, including Craigslist, Flickr, Picasa, yfrog, Tumblr, Photobucket, Yahoo! user groups, e-commerce sites, bulletin boards and blogs.

However, according to Social Intelligence Corp’s official website, “Social Intelligence Corp solely generates reports based on employer pre-defined criteria, both positive and negative. Negative examples include racist remarks or activities, sexually explicit photos or videos and illegal activity such as drug use. Positive examples include charitable or volunteer efforts, participation in industry blogs and external recognition.”

The agency is prohibited from reporting any information not permitted in the hiring process, such as “protected class” traits. Defined by the federal anti-discrimination law, these include race, religion, national origin, age, sex, familial status, sexual orientation, disability status and other qualities that cannot reasonably contribute to the decision-making process. Social Intelligence Corp claims this is how it protects employees. The company calls itself a professional filter that can be customized to reflect corporate culture, even though it prides itself on its unbiased selection process. It claims to “harness the valuable information which is job relevant and available through social media while reducing legal exposure.” However, profiles such as Facebook and Twitter seem to be anything but career relevant.

“The Federal Trade Commission, after initially raising concerns last fall about Social Intelligence’s business, determined the company is in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, but the service still alarms privacy advocates who say that it invites employers to look at information that may not be relevant to job performance,” New York Times reporter Jennifer Preston said.

Most people use social media sites in moments of leisure when they can share freely with friends and family. So, what an intelligence corporation such as this considers to be valuable information must be questioned. Where is the line drawn when trespassing such intimate information, and when does it go too far into the personal and private matters of someone’s life?