June 13th, 2014 | Sterling

Are You Facebook Friends With A Sex Offender?

Are You Facebook Friends With A Sex Offender | SterlingBackcheck

Facebook has become an information powerhouse with more than 1.28 billion monthly active users as of March 2014. It seems like everyone and their grandma has jumped on the social media bandwagon so it’s no wonder that Facebook, the largest social networking site, has evolved into a popular investigation tool. A new app, Friend Verifier has taken “Facebook creeping” one step further by scanning your friends list and comparing it against the national sex offender registry to see if there are any matches. The app is intended for personal use by the average Facebook user and many parents support the idea. After all, it is not uncommon for teens to add “friends” that they’ve never actually met.

So how exactly does the app work? When you visit the organization’s page, you enter your Facebook login credentials, agree to their terms of use, and click scan to begin the search. A list of potential matches appear that are color-coded for easy interpretation:

  • Yellow represents a name match only
  • Orange represents a name and location match
  • Red represents a name, location, and date of birth match

You can click on each match to review the details including full name, location, date of birth, and a photo to determine whether or not it’s actually your friend who is a sex offender.

While many parents agree that the app is a useful tool for screening the people their teens associate with, there is a risk that this sort of app can offer a false sense of security. For one, Facebook does not verify the legal names of its users and many users go under a different name on their social networking profiles. This means that if a sex offender is on your friend list and they are using an alias, no match would be returned. Secondly, the search only scans the sex offender registry and does not search databases for other criminal activity, including violent or serious crimes. In other words, you should not assume that someone is safe simply because their name didn’t yield a match in the scan.

Another concern is reputational damage. There is undoubtedly a negative stigma and implication of wrongdoing attached to negative matches. Friend Verifier serves up plenty of warnings that matches should be reviewed and there is no guarantee that the matches are indeed the friends on your list. However, for someone with a common name or an individual who shares the first and last name with a violent sexual offender, they will encounter unnecessary and embarrassing adverse attention from their friends and colleagues.

One thing to note is that this app is for personal use. It is certainly not an endorsed or advisable practice for employers to add existing employees or applicants as friends and screen them using an app. It could have severe legal repercussions, particularly when consent is not obtained. The same sex offender registry information can be obtained in a legally compliant way by a reputable background screening provider for job applicants, existing employees, or volunteers. In addition, background screening providers can give you a bigger picture of an applicant’s suitability including criminal history, past experience, and resume verification.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.