News & Resources

Will boozy pictures really have a negative impact on a background check?

Jul 08, 2011 Matt Roesly

Since the dawn of the social media era, jobs seekers have been advised to put their accounts on lock down in the off chance that potential employers examine their Facebook or Twitter accounts and find contentious information such as inappropriate photos or posts in background checks. While the legality of this was previously called into question by experts, the firm Social Intelligence was deemed entirely credible by the Federal Trade Commission, allowing companies to peek into any applicant's social past and dig up whatever may be there. One writer for the website Gizmodo wanted to see exactly what Social Intelligence could uncover on applicants, so he and five other Gizmodo ran background checks on themselves via the service. All but one failed, due largely in part to the large online footprint the individual developed from years of work at an online publication. However, it also offered some valuable insight. "[Social Intelligence] only uses the data an employer gives it to run a search," Mat Honan wrote for the source, explaining that this data entails tradition resume information. "Which means that, ultimately, you are the one supplying all the data for a background check. … And that means you should be smart about what kinds of contact information you put on your resume." However, contrary to initial information offered up by sources such as Forbes, Social Intelligence doesn't store information for up to seven years, Gizmodo reported. Rather it examines up to seven years of information, storing none of it. Additionally, it doesn't dig up any of an applicant's party pictures from his or her college days. Instead, the service searches for photos that depict aggressive or violent acts or assertions, unlawful activity, racist or discriminatory statements or activity or sexually explicit activity. As Honan noted, unless an applicant is wearing a swastika, has photos of them physically assaulting someone or is naked from the waist down, those old frat party photos will likely remain out of employers' hands. "Basically, it just wants to know if you're the kind of [person] who will cause legal hassles for an employer," Honan wrote. Background checks have always been an important part of the hiring process, but both social media and the web have shifted the way employers seek out information. For example, a new online database is helping the government peek at potential truck drivers' pasts.