Would Your Child Pass a Social Media Background Check?

Employers can hire companies to check Facebook, Twitter accounts.

July 28, 2011 — -- Yes. You read that right. A social media background check is now possible thanks to a recent ruling by the Federal Trade Commission. That ought to provide us parents with further reinforcement that it's incredibly important to teach our children how to "safely and responsibly network online."

The FTC ruling authorizes companies to provide reports on an individual's online actions by reviewing up to seven years worth of publicly available records. These records include everything from what your child might say and post on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, to Craigslist ads and personal blog posts.

Sure, companies could take a peek at someone's online actions before this ruling, but they were mostly limited to what they found on Google or searched on Facebook or MySpace. This ruling gives organizations information on you (or your child) from seven years back. So whatever your now-15-year-old child is posting online could affect what college they get into or what job they get, which is all the more reason for you to be involved in what and where they post online.

Social Intelligence, a company that specializes in "reducing organizational risk" by helping employers learn more about potential employees via the Internet, has hit the ground running with this ruling.

Mat Honan, a writer from Gizmodo, experimented with Social Intelligence's tool by running a social media background check on himself. He failed, however, as it turns out he mentioned some recreational drug use in an old blog post. But that's just one example of negative activity that can be flagged in a social media background check -- employers can also scan for things like racist remarks and sexually explicit images.

You can see Mat's full post, along with some photos from his background check, here.

These background checks don't only check for negative activity, though. Employers are also able to see the good things that your son or daughter might have posted on their social network profile, like involvement with charity organizations. And if, for example, your child's Facebook profile is set to private, it's no longer considered public information, and therefore inaccessible.

As mentioned at the outset, this ruling should reinforce the need for us to continue to teach, show and talk to our kids about safe and responsible social networking, and the importance of thinking before posting.

For our tweens and teens, it's not a moment too soon for them to learn that social media is a digital resume that expands far beyond work experience. The things they say and do online actually build a profile about them; they can choose to make it work in their favor, or to their disadvantage.

Will your teen pass a social media background check five years from now?

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Read more about Mary Kay Hoal here.

Learn more about cyber safety on the "20/20 We Find Them" page.