The social recruiter

Is it a good idea to use social media as part of screening in your recruitment strategy?

Identifying the risks

If an employer is looking to check a candidate or employee’s social media profile online, they should be asking the following questions:

Q have you or are you considering checking a personal media platform for someone applying for a role with your organisation?
Q would you request permission from a candidate or employee or proceed without it?
Q have you built social media checks into the recruitment process already?
Q is it worth the risk?

As information is increasingly available via a simple web search, employers may believe that an individual’s true character, experience and attributes are better viewed via their Facebook or other similar profiles.

There is no specific UK legislation on this use of social media, despite its significance and potential consequences. The following areas identify how these checks interact with existing laws of discrimination, privacy and data protection and the risks associated with them.


The Equality Act 2010 outlines that employers do not request or expect sensitive personal information eg religion, political views, age, sexual orientation to appear on a CV or application form.

Therefore, why should the personal information visible on a personal social media profile be considered by a recruiter?

If a recruiter views it and subconsciously or consciously uses the knowledge as part of the recruitment consideration, there are serious risks of discrimination. Employers could face an employment tribunal hearing if they refused to interview or offer a job to someone based on a discriminatory judgement they made through looking at the candidate's social media profile.

It is possible to counter these claims by keeping a clear record of what reasons are used for rejection, however it could prove challenging.

Privacy and data protection

Viewing an employee or candidate’s profile must not overstep on their right to a private life. It remains that only if information has willingly been made public is it acceptable to view despite the claims that social media blurs the lines between public and private life. Confusion over privacy settings does make it difficult to determine what is purposefully public but clearly hacking or accessing information secretly is a breach of this.

Alleviating the risks of using social media sites as part of your screening process would include using professional networks such as LinkedIn or official blogs. These suggestions are based on the assumption that the postings on these websites would be intentional.

Although there are no specific laws on social media and the Data Protection Act 1998 does not address it directly, the type of information available it can provide does constitute data.

Warning employees and candidates of the intention to look at their social media accounts, and retrieving consent from them, allows the chance for them to clean up their online profile and check their privacy settings beforehand. This would ensure a level of fairness if an employer is adamant they need to investigate social media profiles.

Finally, Peter Hetherington, RSM’s recruitment specialist says the following on the subject

'Social media, beyond business networking sites like LinkedIn or Xing, is problematic for employers because online profiles are a natural extension and representation of people’s home lives. Recruitment decisions need to be taken first and foremost on capability, and there is too much risk that employers uncover irrelevant personal information which could adversely impact the integrity of their decisions.

The only scenario in which it may be good practice to check social media when hiring, is the appointment of people who may be of interest to journalists, and even then the purpose of the check would be to provide advice on tightening privacy settings if needed. Beyond this rare occasion, my advice to employers is to avoid social media screening of candidates in all cases.'

Employers should review their recruitment process and make sure they are protected from the pitfalls associated with social media and recruitment. RSM can support you with a recruitment review and further recruitment issues. Please contact us for further support, advice or information.

Download the full report for our key considerations.

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