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Haven’t you ever wished some social media users used a little intelligence when posting updates to Facebook or Twitter? You’re not the only one. Now, thanks to Social Intelligence, a Santa Barbara-based startup, companies can conduct social media background checks as way for them to monitor their employees' online activities or screen job seekers' web-based pursuits.

Checking social media poses issues for companies who want to see if their prospective hires may be engaging in behavior unbecoming, but don’t want to gain access to information that shouldn’t factor into the hiring equation, such as marital status, religious or political views. For current employees, social media monitoring can help companies make sure that sensitive information isn’t leaked, while keeping a pulse on the company culture. Social Intelligence takes the load off hiring managers, and administers the background check, so employers don't have to.

How Does it Work?

Anything that's federally or state protected -- race, religion, national origin, age, marital status, disability status or military status -- is redacted, leaving only a consumer report behind. Social Intelligence reports the information, without presenting subject views or definitive hiring decisions.

Social Intelligence's background check product is based on a software application that collects data from across the Web on an individual's social activity. Employers select from a list of 25 types of Internet activity that they want Social Intelligence to search for, including but not limited to racist activity, violent activity, sexually provocative activity and illegal activity. The application can also work in a user’s favor as well -- allowing employers to search for positive activity, such as volunteer work, scholarly publications and awards or honors.

Once the selections are made, Social Intelligence scans social media sites, e-commerce sites, blogs, microblogs, chat rooms, online discussion forums and photo and video-sharing sites. However, the software only has access to information in the public domain, which can limit any profiles whose privacy settings are locked.

Data Doesn't Judge, Humans Do

Of course, Social Intelligence just gathers data. It’s up for actual humans to make judgments about what is reported. But in-depth social monitoring doesn’t let companies off the hook. Any decision made based on the results of social media monitoring need to be disclosed, according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Employers need to notify the employee that it intends to take "adverse action" based on the findings in the background check and is required, under the FCRA, to send a copy of the background check results to the job seeker along with information about how the job seeker can dispute the report.

On its website, Social Intelligence provides examples of how its software helps companies make better, more well-informed decisions for hiring:

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The business of social media monitoring can be particularly sticky, because so many users don’t realize that their right to privacy is diminished on the web. Rights to photos, videos and opinions are rarely their own and may, in fact, be the property of the platform they use. As well, employers are faced with hard decisions, many of which are based on subjective judgments. To leverage the power of social media intelligence, companies are encouraged to draft social media policies in advance so that practices are clearly explained and unwanted behavior is broadly defined.