Many current college students have had social media accounts since they were young teens, regularly posting on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook without fear of repercussions.
But posts riddled with profanity or raucous party photos can come back to haunt them once they start looking for a job. According to a 2020 survey from the Harris Poll, a global market research and consulting firm, 71 percent of those who make hiring decisions in the US agreed that looking at social media profiles is an effective way to screen job applicants. Among employers that use social media to vet candidates, 55 percent said they had found content that caused them to turn down an applicant.
Now a new company called Filtari is partnering with institutions to help students clean up their social media profiles before they start the job-search process. Filtari works by using artificial intelligence to scan and identify written posts and photos on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook that an employer might deem inappropriate or harmful.
Spencer Cheng, co-founder and CEO of Filtari, said the company’s AI scans students’ social media to identify posts that fall under any of the five categories that recruiters might use to weed out potential employees: drug use and paraphernalia, sexually explicit material, Alcohol consumption, guns or other weapons, and inappropriate or toxic speech—including profanity as well as offensive or inflammatory language.
Following the AI scan, students are provided with a report flagging each problematic post. Then they can decide whether to delete them or not. Cheng said the company is working on adding TikTok to the scanning service soon.
By flagging potentially inappropriate posts—including old ones users may have forgotten about—Filtari boosts a student’s chance of landing a job or internship, Cheng said.
“Frankly, this has become a real issue for students today, and it’s not very clear when you are a student that the posts that you’re making in the moment can affect you moving forward,” Cheng said. “An analogy I like to mention is, when you walk into an interview, the last thing you want to do is have a bunch of stains on your clothing—you want to present your best self. And so right now, many students are walking around with stains on their social media, as recruiters and HR leaders are reviewing their profiles and seeing them as an applicant.”
Since Filtari officially launched last year, the company has analyzed about a million user posts on social media, flagging about 80,000 so far. Cheng noted that Filtari is the only social media filtering service he’s aware of geared specifically toward students. But other companies—including Scrubber, BrandYourself and Redact—perform similar services.
The company is now working on creating partnerships that would allow higher ed institutions to offer the service to students for free. Some of those partnerships will be announced in the coming months, Cheng said.
In a pilot partnership with Southern University and A&M College, a historically Black university that is part of Louisiana’s Southern University system, Filtari worked with the Office of Career Services to deliver the screening platform to graduating seniors this past spring.
To build interest, Filtari and Southern University and A&M College created a raffle with a $1,000 cash prize to encourage seniors to use the service, which was advertised during the university’s rehearsal commencement. About 50 graduating students participated, Cheng said.
“We found that the raffle worked, honestly, quite wonderfully,” Cheng said. “Everybody signed up and was excited to not only win the prize but also were very interested in hearing that we are providing a service like this to students.”
Alfred Harrell, CEO of the Southern University System Foundation, which oversees five campuses in Louisiana including Southern University and A&M College, said that graduating seniors reacted positively to Filtari, with some saying it helped them get a job.
“We thought Filtari would be really neat to help our students to sanitize their social media accounts,” Harrell said. “And the pilot went really well and got a lot of good reviews from the students. We had some faculty … make some comments [about the service] and if they thought the program is something that we should make a deeper investment in.”
Harrell said based on comments from students and faculty, Southern University and A&M College is expanding the use of Filtari from graduating seniors to all undergraduates, faculty and staff, beginning this coming fall semester. The service gives users an opportunity to get a second perspective on what they’re posting online and how outsiders might view those posts as offensive or inappropriate, he said.
“Most of us don’t know what offensive posts may be,” Harrell said. “We just assume that what we’re posting is good and don’t know how others perceive it. And so what we’re hoping to do, both for our students and for our faculty and staff, is to help them to be better communicators and just a little bit more considerate of others’ perspectives and opinions.”
Christine Cruzvergara, chief education strategy officer at Handshake, a popular career services platform for students, said social media can be a double-edged sword, especially for young people.
“These days employers know and recognize that people are going to be on LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram,” Cruzvergara said. “These are ways in which you can actually build your brand. But in the same light, it is also a way in which someone might be making assumptions or forming opinions about you before they meet you. And so how you choose to portray yourself and what your brand is online is incredibly important for our students.”
Cruzvergara said among the red flags employers look for is a lack of common sense, demonstrated by posting a lot of expletives. She said employers look at candidates’ social media feeds to get a sense not just of who they are but also how they might represent the company.
“A [swear] word here or there is not likely to make a huge difference—we all certainly have our moments—but if that’s a very consistent way in which you’re showing up online or in social media, that might send a very different message to an employer about who you are and how you may represent their company or their organization.”
Over the past 10 years, it’s become the norm for employers to check the social media accounts of potential candidates, Cruzvergara said. That’s why she thinks it’s a good step for students to use a service like Filtari to make sure they’re not forgetting any posts they’ve made in the past.
“Certainly it doesn’t hurt for a student to have another perspective on the content that they’ve put out there … and how it could be perceived,” Cruzvergara said. “And for you, as a student, you have a choice about whether or not you may want to be perceived that way or not. So I think it’s great that a student would have the option to have, essentially, an extra set of eyes.”