Background Checks on Social Media. Are they safe?

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Looking up information posted on social media, such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, or performing a search on an internet search engine, is starting to become a standard part of the background checks that employers run on prospective job candidates but how safe are you to do it?

Risky business

Such practices are not without risk. Candidates are protected from discrimination even during the recruitment process. If an employer accesses information from Facebook on the candidates sexuality, for example, then the employer may well have to prove, if challenged, that the decision not to appoint was completely unrelated to that fact.

A disgruntled employee is likely to make a data subject access request which will entitle them to all data including emails that the employer held on them. Even a light-hearted internal email expressing an opinion on the candidate may be interpreted in a very different light in this context. Further, where an employer consults and records online information about a candidate this constitutes processing the candidate’s personal data and would have to be disclosed also.


The Information Commissioner has published guidance which is helpful:

  • the candidate should be informed of background searches and checks which will be undertaken;
  • the candidate should be given the opportunity to comment on the accuracy of the information; and
  • the employer should ensure that the checks are proportionate. Checks should be undertaken as late as possible in the process.

For more information, help or advice please contact Tony McPhillips on 0191 211 7908.