Social Media Data | Background Check | FCRA

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), provides protections to consumers, in the use, (among other areas) by employers obtaining information through Consumer Reporting Agencies in conducting background checks.

There may be some confusion in the language, such as, “Credit Reporting”. The Act focuses on other areas besides credit reporting, such as reporting background information on applicants, like convictions or references. There are many other areas that may also be checked. Also, the word “consumer” includes candidates for jobs, existing employees, etc., when a report is researched.

The FCRA becomes relevant when an employer utilizes a third party, Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA), to conduct the background or reference check on job applicants or existing employees.

The act provides protections, assuring consistency and legal compliance in the search and management of information, accurate reporting, and transparency to the consumer. Consumers must be advised of research being completed and provide permission. In the case of an adverse decision, the consumer must be notified, and given the opportunity to make corrections regarding inaccuracies. Some states have additional restrictions.

Note that this information on FCRA is brief. In-depth information can be found by reviewing the actual law at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website.

There are companies that are now including social media data – public information found online through social media networking, photo-sharing, blogs, etc – in background searches. To avoid being in a position of potential inadvertent discrimination, and to assure consistency in information gathered and considered, the utilization of a reputable Consumer Reporting Agency is recommended.

Conducting a proper check has provided helpful information to employers, such as evidence of racist remarks, displays of weapons, sexually explicit photos, and references to illegal drugs. One CRA reports that much of the negative information about job candidates comes from deep Web searches with blogs or posts on smaller social sites, user groups, and bulletin boards.

They indicate that, when delivering reports to clients, they remove any references to information about job candidates that is protected under federal law. Information that is illegal to consider includes age, gender, religion, disability, national origin, and race.

If you choose to include a check of online activities in your background check, assuring fair and consistent hiring practices, as well as employee treatment, and protecting the privacy of job candidates and employees is essential.


Information provided is not considered legal advice or complete information. For further information, consulting your attorney is advised.

Federal Trade Commission
Start-up Handles Social Media Background Checks  New York Times, Jennifer Preston, July 20, 2011


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