LinkedIn Has a Fake Profile Problem
Did you know that you might not be able trust LinkedIn at all? Yes, unfortunately you heard that right. The credibility of the go-to resource for recruiters, employers, investors and curious ex-colleagues is steadily waning, and it pains me to say that. I do feel fooled, and maybe you should too. Every time you use the world’s leading professional networking site in isolation to check an ICO or blockchain team, for example, there is no way of knowing for sure whether they are even real or even if you’re getting the full story. Moreover, it has never been a reliable method, and can even in certain cases be downright misleading, causing sometimes severe mistakes to be made — and lots of money to be lost. Shocking, I know, but it’s true. Bear with me and read on to understand why.
Like most people, I was at first impressed with the world’s leading professional networking site. I thought that my days of having to constantly send out CVs was over, and I was looking forward to having honest interactions with my peers, make new contacts, and get a front row seat for the best news for my industry. However, I started to question some of these assumptions when LinkedIn leaked 60 million of their user data records, perhaps with mine among them. Remind you of anyone? It got me thinking how far the termites had actually gone. Could it be the case that even attempts to verify skills, experience and even the basic fundamentals of identity were all flawed too? Unfortunately, my worst suspicions were quickly confirmed, and it didn’t take long to find out the truth, which I will now attempt to convey to you.
Fake it to make it
It’s very easy these days to create a completely fake LinkedIn profile. Want to know how? All you need to do is go to This Person Does Not Exist, and select a fake profile photo for yourself. If you’re stuck for an appropriate job title for your new fake identity, that’s also too easily arranged. Simply pick your favorite company and take a look through their job vacancies to find that dream job you never had and will never get. Once you’ve done that, simply state that you worked at that company and add yourself to the LinkedIn record of employees who have worked there. It’s so easy to do and very difficult for LinkedIn or anyone else to fight. Other brave voices such as Kerry Flynn have already picked upon this problem, not to mention Josh Hendrickson too. The word is getting out, slowly but surely.
To solidify a fake profile even further, there are only a few missing ingredients. This starts by adding connections. Take a moment to ask yourself how many of your LinkedIn connections that you actually know. Just like you may often add people without a second thought, especially if they’re listed as having worked for a glamorous company, the fraudsters out there are doing exactly the same thing to give themselves an extra credibility boost. Then of course there’s the option to buy fake skills endorsements and recommendations too. Believe it or not, there are very weak checks in place to stop anyone from doing this on LinkedIn. Since you are paying for a service here, these positive reviews are made to look authentic and credible, and there is no easy way to see the truth for yourself unless you go through each and every endorsement and recommendation. But who has the time to do that? That’s right, hardly anyone. Shocking right? Well, read on. It gets worse.
Even on the off chance that a fake profile is noticed by someone, it’s not particularly easy to get it removed. Anyone who notices something amiss is required to wade through a swamp of questions to ascertain whether there are factual errors in play or whether the account is completely fake, providing evidence for these assertions. As you can imagine, most people trying to do the right thing just cannot be bothered to do this. Even if they do have this time on their hands, LinkedIn doesn’t have the time and resources to combat the multitude of spammers and fakes on their site and could easily just reject their reports on the flimsiest of bases. This is despite the effort that person will have gone to in actually doing their own employment verification checks for them.
But if that alone doesn’t give you pause for thought, have you noticed the incessant and ever-present virtue signalling on LinkedIn? Having morphed from a serious site, it has steadily turned into a “love in”, with desperate job seekers more than happy to play along to show how “good” they are, by being given options to click “like”, “celebrate”, “love”, “insightful” or “curious” about the articles/posts they read. I think we all remember a time when this would have been received with incredulous laughter or even downright mockery, but this has now unbelievably become standard fare. So, what happens when you dislike what you are reading, or have other negative feelings towards it? What are your options there?
The only choices you have are to comment, explaining your disapproval or disbelief, but only very few can be bothered drawing attention to themselves in this way as a grinch. The other and much easier alternative is to just skip on to the next article or post in your feed. In other words, LinkedIn reinforces a positive feeling for everything you read, which is of course dangerous in itself. It leaves us with restricted ability to discriminate over what is true and fair, and presents a skewed view of what we are reading or watching. If these are qualities that you value from a professional networking site, then it’s time to re-evaluate your position. Nobody likes their thoughts being conditioned, and increasing numbers of people are choosing to leave as a result.
Problems with Pay to Play
When you add to this the fact that LinkedIn has now become a pay-to-play platform, this means that many of the best articles and posts are suppressed and not viewed if the author has not paid their subscription. As everyone knows, payment for articles dilutes the quality of the news we read because, quite simply, you’re not going to see the very best information unless it’s been paid for.
It hurts recruiters too
A recruitment consultant I spoke to, who has asked to remain unnamed, claimed that her client had mistakenly given a job to a woman who was completely out of her depth. To cover up her ineptitude, she in turn hired others with even lower levels of competence so that her own shortcomings would never be revealed. This is more common than we think. It is a common occurrence for jobseekers to exaggerate and even downright lie on their resumes. Whether it’s fibbing about past employers or job duties and skill sets, candidates who are hired based on fallacious claims can end up costing their new employer a lot of money. Take the sad example of Kenneth Lonchar, a former CFO of Veritas Software, back in 2002. Just one year after winning CFO Magazine’s Excellence Award for Managing External Stakeholders, it was discovered that he had lied about his educational background. When the truth emerged that he had not in fact received an MBA from Stanford University, a Merrill Lynch analyst downgraded the company, causing its stock price to plummet by 17%.
So where does this put agency recruiters and hiring managers? To put it mildly, they are now required to not trust LinkedIn blindly — they simply cannot put their faith in LinkedIn alone. Nevertheless, this is an impossible task. Despite resources now available to help verify educational credentials, such as the National Student Clearinghouse and Certn, there are some drawbacks. Not only are they often limited to just one or very few countries, they are also costly and inefficient resources for recruiters who want a one-stop shop for all their hard skill checks. And there’s just so much to get to grips with. Not only do you need to learn which universities are real and which aren’t, you have to become an expert in identifying copycat websites, fake certificate sites and shady individuals. Then there are operational concerns about what to do when an attempt to mislead is observed. There is a lack of awareness about the procedures to follow, the checks to be made and the laws to be respected. You’d need to get the lawyers in, which is an even more costly endeavor and further hits the bottom line. If you take the risk of not getting legal counsel, are you really willing to go through all the fraud and forgery legislation? Can you really be expected to understand the requirements and genuineness of every single degree awarding organisation in the world?
The verification workload for those using LinkedIn quickly becomes unmanageable when all the endorsements, skills and references for each candidate have to be checked too. That’s why the recruitment industry is now turning to other options. Not only do these provide operational improvements to recruiters and hiring managers, transparency is increased, as well as the ability to provide value generating future addons. In short, the potential for data manipulation in these long overdue alternatives is forecast to be just a fraction of what is currently plaguing LinkedIn. While LinkedIn continue putting their faith in their users’ sense of integrity improving and maintaining quality, it is difficult to believe that with the evidence provided so far. So, what should we do? In my opinion, decentralized networks where the users own their own identity are the only way forward. Blockchain has a role to play here, but the user experience is not good enough for it to gain traction yet.
So if you are looking for a job and your recruiter asks you provide your LinkedIn profile, politely refuse and pass on this article to them, with your CV attached, along with your profile on an alternative professional networking site that does things differently. No doubt your recruiters already understand that LinkedIn is actually make their jobs harder too, and they could save hours a day simply by changing their recruitment process to eliminate LinkedIn forever. It’s about time we all did the right thing, recruiters and jobseekers alike, and start looking at other options which might help reduce the scams, hypocrisy and virtue signalling that has now made LinkedIn an increasingly unpalatable option for everyone who values what is real in this increasingly crazy job market we all share.