State laws do not bar employers from using social media for any form of background check, but they do make it more difficult. Left to their own devices, employers must use social network search functions to find their candidates on LinkedIn (usually pretty easy), Facebook (more difficult), and Twitter (next to impossible).
This added challenge brings to light issues with the consistency and verifiability of social media background checks. Employers can rarely be sure if they’ve found the correct social media profile for a candidate. Since many candidates are difficult to find on social media — whether because they don’t have active accounts or have activated robust privacy settings — there is no consistency to the social media background check process.
Someone who is very active on Facebook could have a disadvantage compared to a candidate who doesn’t have a profile. With any background check, consistency in procedures from one applicant to the next is paramount. That consistency cannot be achieved with social media background checks.
Employers and job seekers alike should be aware of the rocky implications of social media background checks. More traditional background checks — from criminal history searches to educational verifications to reference checks — are considerably more effective and less legally or ethically treacherous. Even though more and more employers are using social media to vet their candidates, there are countless reasons that the practice is time-consuming at best and extremely risky at worst.