We’ve heard a lot in the past few days about employers looking at applicants’ social media accounts as a way to gather additional information during the hiring process. The latest news in social media screening is that some employers are asking for applicants’ Facebook and other social media account passwords or are asking them to sign in to their accounts during an interview.

It’s no surprise that social media has become a temptation when it comes to screening applicants during the hiring process. Social media quickly went from a college craze to a “you’re left out if you don’t have an account” communication tool. Many people share more information on social media sites than they do in face-to-face interactions, so checking applicant’s Twitter feed or Facebook page could tell an employer more about the applicant than a traditional reference check. And the number of employers who include social media screening in their hiring process is on the rise.

According to Social Intelligence, 79 percent of U.S. hiring managers and recruiters have gone online to discover things about job applicants and 69 percent have rejected applicants based on what they’ve found.

But making social media screening a part of your employment screening process can be a slippery slope if you’re not careful.

As of June 2011, social media is subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which requires “reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy,” something difficult to confirm given the ability to post anything you want on social media, regardless of its validity.

Social media sites also open the door for employers to see information related to race, religion, sex or national origin – information protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that cannot influence an employer’s hiring decision.

This doesn’t mean you have to ditch social media screening. Social media screening can give insight into an applicant’s personality and character, something that can be hard to gauge from applications and interviews. But the best way to include social media screening in your hiring process is to let a third party partner conduct the screening.

A partner can conduct the screening as part of your background screening process and provide only the information that is allowed to be used – both good and bad – in your hiring decisions. This will protect your business from potential legal liabilities and give you the additional feedback you’re looking for before you make a hire.

If you don’t currently have a background or social media screening partner, check out the top three questions you should potential partners when shopping around.