ContributorsEnabling Technology

Screen Saver?

A skeptical rumination on liability in social media recruiting.
By John Sumser
There’s a land rush on in social media for the HR and recruiting world. About 30 companies, ranging from Jibe to BraveNewTalent, claim everything from network data to referrals to online talent communities. Everyone is trying to harness the power of the new platforms.
It’s very, very early in the evolution of social media and the infrastructure that supports it. Although the majority view focuses on the three main continents (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn), there are submerged continents (like Google, Yahoo and AOL) and large empires in search of land (Microsoft, Apple, and the big pseudo platforms Salesforce, NetSuite). More importantly, there are a kajillion little islands of activity posturing with a social bent.
If you lift the next rock you see, you’ll find a social media provider and an ecosystem that includes some form of HR or recruiting offering. Like those bugs under the rocks, those swarming undifferentiated insects are wooing the funders and talking up micro-clients.
And, things will really heat up once LinkedIn goes public. Armed with an acquisition war chest, they will spark a buying spree whether or not they actually buy anything. Everyone you know will suddenly develop an appetite for social media acquisitions. This is why the funding of these startups is going bananas.
Meanwhile, HR departments are freaking out about the supposed liability and risk associated with the introduction of social media into the hiring process. On one extreme, we have the holy host of fearmongers who forecast a nuclear holocaust of discrimination litigation based on hiring processes that are tainted by suspect information. On the other hand, more reasonable voices suggest that the fearmongering is pure nonsense, that there is no way to identify the damaged class of people and no way to collect the evidence.
In these sorts of battles, the lawyers (otherwise known as Chief Fearmongering Officers) prevail. Since the chance that there might be a risk of liability is the key to billable hours (or departmental expansion), they are required to see boogeymen everywhere they look. As a result, you can expect to see a real growth in the services that supply plausible deniability and repeatable processes.
That means that while we’re not sure that there’s an actual need, we are certain that the new service offered by Social Intelligence is going to be a success. It will be widely copied, and its marketing claims will become industry standard buzzwords.
Their pitch is completely straightforward: “Social Intelligence Corp. is a fully compliant consumer reporting agency (CRA) with processes and operations designed and operated in adherence with federal, state, and local employment laws as well as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).” In other words, if it scares you, they’ve got it covered.
Effectively, the company is pioneering a new form for background check that focuses on the risks a company faces for not doing adequate due-diligence in the hiring process. They believe that their form of background check will be as commonplace as a criminal check. If, somehow, their model prevails, this is a home run.
By setting itself up as a consumer reporting agency (a CRA is like a credit bureau, in this case a bureau for employment information), Social Intelligence is creating an entirely new category of service under existing regulation. Their offering forces you to answer the question about whether or not social media liability is real.
The company looks for disconfirming evidence in a variety of ways. They screen pictures, evaluate various alternative resumes, monitor chat rooms, and dig deeply into those thousands of islands of social media.

The really interesting thing is that their execution model is a hybrid of technology and human infrastructure. If you’ve been following our view of the evolution of software, this is exactly what the next generation of software looks like. Software-as-a-service is a service, and it is increasingly about the people who deliver it.
SocialIntelligence has a number of things right. Our bet is that they are widely emulated and acquired early.
Consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) are entities that collect and disseminate information about consumers to be used for credit evaluation and certain other purposes, including employment. Credit bureaus, a type of consumer reporting agency, hold a consumer’s credit report in their databases. CRAs have a number of responsibilities under FCRA, including the following:
• Provide a consumer with information about him or her in the
agency’s files, and take steps to verify the accuracy of information disputed by a consumer.
• Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), an
amendment to the FCRA passed in 2003, consumers are able to receive one free report a year.
• If negative information is removed as a result of a consumer’s dispute,
it may not be reinserted without notifying the consumer within five days.
The FCRA describes how long negative information, such as late payments, bankruptcies, tax liens, or judgments may stay on a consumer’s credit report—typically seven years from the date of the delinquency. The exceptions: bankruptcies (10 years) and tax liens (seven years from the time they are paid).

John Sumser is a technology consultant, trade show producer, and webmaster of He can be reached at

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