Meet the Big Brother Screening Your Social Media for Employers

Companies are hiring professional social media screeners to scan your Twitter and Facebook pages. Will they get you hired or fired?

Big Brother


Turn off your Twitter feed. Hide your Flickr photos. Remove your YouTube videos. And change your Facebook privacy settings (if you can figure out how).

With unemployment rates flying high, jobs are scarcer than ever, and applicants need every leg up they can get. What’s one overlooked way of improving your chances of getting hired, after rewriting your cover letter or buying a new suit? Stop using social media.

Today, employers are no longer just searching Google for information on applicants–they’re commissioning companies to do professional social media background checks. Posted some foul-mouthed tweets? Got pictures of yourself downing a beer bong in college? They may hurt your chances. Some 8% of companies have already fired social media miscreants.

Santa Barbara-based Social Intelligence Corp. is just one of the many companies that specializes in social media background checks of potential employees and active monitoring of existing employees. SIC scans the Internet for racy online activity and provocative photos unbecoming of an ideal job candidate. These new hiring standards are turning the job application process upside-down.

“I personally think we’re moving away from the one-page résumé,” explains CEO Max Drucker. “I think we’re moving toward where your online history is your résumé.”


Drucker says SIC only screens for user-generated “objectionable behavior” online, and that standards vary based on employer. Editors of High Times might be more lenient than, say, the HR department of the Wall Street Journal. The majority of the time, SIC takes screenshots of behavior that falls into the category of “poor judgment.” These screenshots are then shown to employers for review. Does it typically ruin the chances for a new hire? “Yes,” says Drucker. “The more risk-averse employers won’t even look at the pictures.”

Given the breadth of Google, it’s a scary thought that our identities and character may soon be judged based on scraps of information collected online–there’s no question it feels like an invasion of privacy. But not to Drucker, at least legally speaking. SIC only collects user-generated content (no third-party or hearsay data posted in obscure forums), and redacts any information that would violate federal law.

“Look, this is information that’s in the public domain,” he says. “We’re not making fake friend requests, we’re not being sneaky. We’re simply taking information in the public domain, and structuring it in a fashion that’s legal and relevant for the hiring process.”

Social media has been a headache for employers. Though it may provide some insight into an applicant’s history, it is just as likely to be taken out of context. Your behavior at home is obviously different from how you conduct yourself at work. Even online, many of us reserve different behaviors for different networks–we might be more professional on LinkedIn, more snarky on Twitter, and more open on Facebook.

Regardless, having no trace of information online means nothing about your character–it just means you are better at covering your tracks. Drucker admits that having no social media presence is a kind of leg-up, and points out that some companies now specialize in ensuring your privacy.


However, not everything SIC does is aimed at crushing the hopes of job applicants. Drucker says the company also reports any positive character traits: LinkedIn contacts and recommendations, industry expertise from blogs, or charitable work shown in photographs. So, if you want to get hired by Apple, say, it wouldn’t hurt to create a Tumblr blog about your love for iPads, post some pictures of you handing out iPods at a soup kitchen, and arbitrarily inflate your LinkedIn popularity by friending anybody and everybody.

Drucker defends his job by comparing to that of the highway patrol. “People by-and-large stay within the speed limit because they know there is someone consequences if they get caught,” he says. “Look, the employer is damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. If they do the screening themselves, it’s a legal landmine. If they don’t, they open themselves up to negligent hiring.”

But do we really want to live our lives under the constant watch of a highway patrol officer? That’s a rather Orwellian future. Would Drucker even want to live in that world? Has he himself gone through this process? “Well no, I’m CEO,” he says, chuckling. “I created the company!”

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.