The Fair Credit Reporting Act and Social Media Background Checks

A June 2011 post on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website titled ‘The Fair Credit Reporting Act & Social Media: What Businesses Should Know,’ reminds employers and Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs) that the Fair Credit Reporting Act’s rules apply to information derived from social media to the same extent as they apply to traditional sources of information, such as employment history and criminal records.

For example, companies selling background reports must take reasonable steps to ensure the accuracy of what’s reported from social networks and to make sure it relates to the correct person. In addition, CRAs must give employers who use their reports information about employers’ responsibilities under the FCRA – like providing employees or applicants advance notice of any adverse action to be taken on the basis of the reports.
For employers, viewing social media sites is fraught with danger due to potential allegations of discrimination, invasion of privacy, illegal consideration of legal off-duty conduct, and issues of accuracy and authenticity. And how does a CRA determine if the information found on the Internet is credible, accurate, and authentic? There have been cases of false posting under another person’s name – a sort of online identity theft.
As a result of the position taken by the FTC, some CRAs may conclude that providing social medial searches is a risky business. CRAs and employers should realize that the bottom line when conducting social media background checks is to proceed with caution. Using the Internet for screening is dangerous, given the lack of legal authority in this area.