The GDPR and its effect on social media screening

If you’ve taken a quick look at a candidate’s LinkedIn account, or perhaps scrolled through their Facebook feed, you’re not alone.

In fact, according to a recent survey of more than 2,300 U.S. hiring managers and human resources professionals, you’re among 70% of employers who’ve used social networking sites to screen job candidates. An additional 7% admit they plan to start following suit in the near future.

As popular as the practice of social media screening has become, the European Union (EU) is asking employers to stop, unless they follow a strict new set of guidelines, which doesn’t stop at the border of its 28 member countries.

The GDPR and social media screening

The European Union takes data protection very seriously.

In May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect to give control to individuals over their personal data and provide simple set of rules to all companies collecting, handling and distributing personal data of individuals in the EU and the European Economic Area (EEA). Individuals must give clear consent to the processing of their personal information and an organisation in breach of the new laws can be fined up to 4% of its annual global revenue, or €20 million, whichever is greater.

While not legally binding, the advice relating to social media screening, in Article 29 of the GDPR (5.1), states that even though an individual’s social media accounts may be publicly available, employers should still notify candidates before viewing their social media accounts, and gain clear consent to processing any data which exists there.

The GDPR also requires that employers only view social media profiles when the information is relevant to the position being applied for.

The advice also warns that, “The employer should – prior to the inspection of a social media profile – take into account whether the social media profile of the applicant is related to business or private purposes, as this can be an important indication for the legal admissibility of the data inspection.”

This means that while business networking sites such as LinkedIn may be considered fair game, platforms used for more personal purposes, such as Facebook and Instagram, are possibly not relevant.

If you’re an Australian business that deals with the personal information of EU citizens, or you have registered offices in the EEA region, the GDPR’s strict data protection guidelines apply to you to. To be compliant, Australian organisations must ensure they put appropriate technical and organisational measures in place and their contracts are also implementing the data protection principles of the law.

Governments that are using social media screening

Europe may be wary of social media screening, but elsewhere, governments are endorsing it, and even making it mandatory.

In June this year, the US Government announced that foreigners applying for a US work or study visa for stays longer than 90 days (including Australians and New Zealanders) must surrender their social media handles.

The South African Government is jumping on board too. Here, government departments are being strongly encouraged to use social media as an additional platform for screening candidates looking for employment in the public service.

Unlike her EU counterparts, South Africa’s Minister for Public Service and Administration, Ayanda Dlodlo, believes the use of social media screening greatly enhances the recruitment process, and professionalism within the public service.

“In order for us to recruit individuals that meet the prescripts, we need to employ all tools and methodologies of screening including the use of internet and social media in particular,” she said.

Dlodlo stressed that social media screening was not intended to restrict individuals’ constitutional right to privacy, or suppress people’s ideological or political viewpoints. She also instructed departments to first obtain the consent of the candidate before delving into their social media accounts.

The pros and cons of social media screening

When used as a supplement to traditional background screening, there’s little doubt social media screening can help paint a more clear candidate portrait. But the practice does come with its own set of concern, which recruiters should be wary of.

Want to know more about the pros and cons of social media screening? Read our article on the hidden dangers of stalking candidates on social media, including a handy list of tips to ensure you use this practice ethically and legally.

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