Nowadays many employers are relying on background screening firms or their in-house HR professionals to conduct online social media searches to learn more about their candidates. Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and several other platforms are among the commonly screened social media sites. Respect for others is often at the top of an employer’s list of qualities to look for in a candidate, and this information is often readily available via social media, thus making it a popular choice when background screening your job candidates. Viewing the type of content that he/she has published or shared, as well as how they communicate with others online, allows quick insight into their moral conduct and can indicate potential red flags or undesirable behavior (e.g., posting inappropriate content or harassing others). On the other hand, checking your candidates’ social media can also be a great representation of their strengths and portfolio of work if they are applying for a job in a similar domain, for instance, in the marketing, advertising or public relations industry.
However, it is important to note that where social media screening-related laws may be shared on a nationwide basis in areas such as the U.S. and Britain, this is not the case in Asia. As an employer in Asia, or as a company that is planning to expand its business in Asia, it is important to keep yourself current with the various social media web spaces and relevant legislations prior to screening your candidates. In view of this, here are three considerations to keep in mind when conducting social media background checks in Asia Pacific.
Many employers outside of Asia assume that “the main” or most popular social media platforms that are used globally include Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin or Instagram. However, what some countries may constitute as the “most used” social media networks may differ widely, and can often prove to be ever-changing across Asia. Interestingly enough, a popular social media application in Singapore at the moment is Pinterest – which is an image hosting and sharing platform designed for inspirations and projects such as “dream” or vision boards for home decorations, DIY projects, holidays, and more.
In South Korea, local alternatives to the aforementioned social media networks include Naver Band, an application that has 16.92 million monthly active users and was cited by Mobile Index as the current most popular social media platform there. Whereas in China, Weibo, RenRen and WeChat are the most popular social media applications as opposed to Facebook (which is banned there). For those who have never heard of these social networks, WeChat is both a messaging app and a social media network where users can follow celebrities, brands and post their own content on their social feeds called “WeChat Moments”. Weibo (which means ‘microblog’ in Chinese) is one of the other main social media platforms used there and has reached over 224 million active users this year. In fact, it is often seen as the most influential application. The main demographic of Weibo users are the Generation Z group (i.e., people born between 1997 and 2015) who often discover trends and the latest promotions from influencers through the app. In view of this, it is important for employers to understand that the social media screening they conduct on candidates may likely differ over the years and across different regions. One example of this includes how in just two years, TikTok has emerged to rival mega-platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat by amassing over 1 billion downloads in 150 markets worldwide. The app has hooked audiences globally as little translation is required based on the often self-explanatory videos. Indonesia is the second-largest market for TikTok users at the moment, with Japan closely following as the fourth largest market. Ironically enough, TikTok itself conducts screening of all their candidates’ TikTok accounts (if any) that apply for a job at the company.
In consideration of the varying demographics across different social networks, companies should determine whether social media screening is first and foremost being conducted on the relevant and commonly used platforms in the country that their candidate is applying for a job and currently resides. In addition, as different social media networks have different demographics and features, firms should assess how beneficial a social media check would be based on the age range of their candidate versus the features and main demographic of the relevant social platform. For instance, if 50% of your company hires are millennials, and thus more likely to be present on social media, the non-usage of social media screening may almost be detrimental in terms of overlooking potentially vital information that can help you make an informed hiring decision and mitigate future chances of incompetence, fraud, violence or disruptive behavior in your workplace.
Let’s take the example of Pinterest as a popularly used social media platform in Singapore at the moment. As the largest age group demographic is users aged 30-49 years old, this would be a more useful social media platform for companies to screen than TikTok, which not only has a lower usage demographic in Singapore in comparison to other Asian countries, but also a far lower age group usage in comparison to social networks such as Pinterest or Linkedin (where the main user age range is 25-34 years old). Apart from this, the features of the application you screen may play a vital part in the information you obtain as well. For example, screening your candidates’ LinkedIn profile would provide far better insight into a candidate’s previous work experience in contrast to screening their Facebook profile.
To mitigate cases of breaching any social media screening-related laws in your jurisdiction, and to avoid gaining exposure to sensitive information on your candidates (such as protected attributes), HR professionals should be mindful when considering whether and how to conduct in-house social media screening. This includes the consideration of factors such as if it is permitted under the laws in their location. If so, appropriate segregation of information must be done to ensure that protected attributes, such as a candidates’ disability, race or gender, are not taken into account during the hiring process. Companies can additionally implement methods such as a) only accessing publicly shared data, or b) using separate personnel under the company for screening upon legal requirements being approved by your legal team. However, the danger of “accessing” information that should not be accounted for during the selection process is highly likely when such checks are conducted by in-house staff. This is because social media screening is an often complex and time-consuming process that requires sufficient legal expertise and manpower to be done accurately and compliantly.
The challenges posed by in-house screening have led to more companies opting to partner with third-party background screening firms to conduct social media (and other) background checks on their candidates. This facilitates a more sophisticated process and additionally eliminates the risk of personal bias or reputational disrepute that may occur due to blunders made by an inexperienced employee that may produce an incorrect or unlawful background check. To overcome these challenges, employers should acknowledge that recruiting processes (including social media checks) change as we progress from generation to generation and across locations. As long as social media screening is performed in a legal manner, it can help you make good hiring decisions and ensure a safe environment for your employees and clients.
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