Social Media Screening

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A candidate’s online presence can provide a mine of information that can improve vetting procedures if researched thoroughly and responsibly, says Susie Thomson, Matrix Security Watchdog.

Thorough candidate screening has long been an essential part of public sector recruitment. Care services need to ensure the safety of the vulnerable citizens they serve. Government departments must stringently verify employee credentials due to the critical nature of the decisions they will make and the potential security threat to colleagues and the general public. The challenge is to maintain maximum vigilance in a changing global media and technology landscape, which is becoming increasingly politicised and litigious.

Global social media use, for example, has nearly doubled in the past five years and is predicted to hit 4.89 billion by the end of 2023. This includes 57.1 million British citizens – 85 per cent of the UK population. This growing trend has been accelerated by the pandemic, which has also resulted in an increase in the number of social media channels.

The explosion of this instant, always-on, ubiquitous culture means opinions are more regularly and widely expressed, and actions increasingly visible and accessible. And with most people now having a sizeable social media presence, it’s no wonder organisations are formulating staff policy over posting responsibly. Yet this is not filtering through as quickly to employee screening.

The problem and solution

Recent much-publicised events have vividly highlighted the multi-faceted horrors of inadequate public sector staff background checks. However, social media not only increases the dangers, but also offers a solution. One that’s fast, accurate and cost effective if carried out in the right, GDPR-compliant way.

Thorough social media background checks require specific expertise, using powerful screening and online behaviour evaluation tools designed to assess a candidate’s social media profile fairly and objectively. This is not something that can easily be handled in house without the risk of breaching privacy or HR guidelines. Ideally, there should be a range of options for the time period that the check covers, say two, three, five or 10 years, to reflect the age and status of the candidate. Younger candidates will have much shorter profiles, whereas more senior positions will potentially require longer and more in-depth research.

Essentially, the check audits an individual’s online presence, painstakingly looking for behaviour incompatible to the role. This might be activity that would compromise a person’s ability to carry out their job to the required standard, put colleagues and the general public at risk, or be politically sensitive, potentially damaging the reputation of an organisation. It also identifies possible privacy issues, such as leaking information.

Completing the picture

Performed properly, social media checks are more detailed and quicker than traditional screening methods. They should be presented in an easy-to-interpret report, which helps protect an employer without breaching trust with the candidate, accelerating as well as improving the selection process.

They can also work hand-in-hand with other modern tactics to paint a clearer, more complete picture of the potential new recruit. These include open banking to verify employment periods and second job activity, and accessing bank statements, payroll information and HMRC data. This significantly reduces the risk involved in traditional screening, such as the highly subjective and unreliable candidate CV and employer reference, which are rapidly reaching their sell-by dates.

The good news is that social media screening is growing in popularity. We’ve found demand increase 130% since we introduced the service in 2020. What’s more, public sector organisations are now waking up to the technique, which will prove instrumental in not only finding and employing the best possible people, but also avoiding future reputational and political disasters.

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