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Social Media Background Checks

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln D. Chafee has signed the 2014 Student and Employee Social Media Privacy Acts – 2014-S 2095Aaa and 2014-H 7124Aaa – to prevent potential employers or school admissions officers from asking applicants to provide login information or to sign into their social media accounts so an interviewer can view their online activities. A press release about the Rhode Island Social Media Privacy Acts is available on the State of Rhode Island General Assembly website: “Rhode Island enacts social media privacy laws”

“Clearly social media outlets should have a primary objective of allowing an individual to share certain material with others,” Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, Providence, North Providence) stated in a press release about the Social Media Privacy Acts. “But there should be a distinct line between what an individual posts and makes available to others and information such as passwords and one-to-one communications. Individuals on social media who intend for these things not to be made public should not be forced to make them public.”

According to the press release, the 2014 Student and Employee Social Media Privacy Acts will bar employers and colleges from demanding social media materials of job applicants and prospective students. The new law also includes a Student Data-Cloud Computing Act that provides that any cloud computing service to an educational institution in the state may not process any student data for any commercial purpose. The legislation signed by the Governor for the Social Media Privacy Acts also provides that:

  • No educational institution can require, suggest or cause a student or prospective student to disclose the user name, password or any other means for accessing a personal social media account or divulge any personal social media information.
  • No educational institution can compel a student or applicant, as a condition of acceptance to the school, to add anyone (coach, instructor, school administrator or other school employee or volunteer) to their list of contacts associated with a social media account.
  • No educational institution can discharge, discipline or otherwise penalize any student for refusing to disclose social media information or refuse to admit any applicant for refusing to disclose information.
  • Any civil action alleging a violation of those provisions would result in an award of punitive and actual damages.
  • Similarly, no employer will be allowed to require, request, suggest or cause an employee or applicant to disclose personal social media information.
  • No employer will be allowed to compel an applicant to add anyone, including the employer or agent, to the applicant’s list of contacts associated with the social media account.
  • Employers will be prohibited from discharging, disciplining or otherwise penalizing any employee for refusing to divulge social media information.

Any civil action alleging a violation of the provisions of the 2014 Student and Employee Social Media Privacy Acts could also result in injunctive relief against the employer in addition to punitive and actual damages.

“Under this new law, potential employers and prospective educational institutions can still see what applicants are posting for general public consumption,” said Representative Brian Patrick Kennedy (D-Dist. 38, Hopkinton, Westerly), chair of the House Committee on Corporations. “They just will not be able to force or coerce access to private pages that only the applicant’s friends or family might see. I think that is a very good balance of individual privacy concerns and legitimate employer or school needs.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), many state lawmakers across the U.S. have introduced legislation for Social Media Privacy Acts “to prevent employers from requesting passwords to personal Internet accounts to get or keep a job” and also “to protect students in public colleges and universities from having to grant access to their social networking accounts.” In 2014 alone, legislation has been introduced or is pending in at least 28 states.

More News About Social Media Privacy Acts

For more information about how new Social Media Privacy Acts affect social media background checks, read the ESR News blogs located at

Read the Press Release: Employment Screening Resources (ESR) Announces Completion of SOC 2 Data Security Audit