After hoovering up your personal data for advertising purposes, one of the chief aims of social networks is for you to ‘connect’ with as many people as possible so that you can be used as a conduit for advertisers to tap into your network for advertising purposes. Cynical? Moi? Anyway, I digress, on the majority of social networks, you’ll find features to enable you to connect with people you may know and expand your network. It’s usually on the top right hand side of the web page and probably has a thumbnail of the individual and some sort of reason why you may know them – usually through other people. On Facebook I’ll be suggested a variety of people that I went to school with, socialised with or some other activity. However on LinkedIn, it’s a bit more business focused with colleagues, recruiters and potential profiled prospects appearing on this feature. I tend to not pay too much attention to this feature however if I log into LinkedIn, I may give a cursory glance to this feature to see if I recognise any names or photos. And then once I’ve concluded that I don’t know the suggestions, I move on to whatever my initial intention for being on the site actually was.
This week however, I stopped. There was a name sitting there that I knew and recognised. I kid you not, I was dumbfounded, just staring at my screen wondering if the appearance of this individual was some sort of joke. I’ve never met the man but I know who he is, and if you are a resident of the British Isles, you know exactly who he is! So I clicked to investigate more. There was no photo however the job title that I knew him for was correct. And he had over 500 connections which suggested that there was a degree of legitimacy to this profile. Now, you’re all champing at the bit wonder who it is right? Well, I’ll tell you:
For those who don’t know, Mr Speed was a very successful and eloquent footballer who had retired and was manager of the Welsh national side. Late last year he committed suicide. Now, Gary Speed’s appearance on LinkedIn would not have surprised me as he was an intelligent individual who undoubtedly had a network that extended beyond football into other business sectors. But there are a few things about this profile that don’t make sense. First things first, if the profile is legitimate, why has no one in his 500+ strong network informed LinkedIn of his passing and requested the removal of the profile, or amend into a memorial? Now, don’t forget, I’m cynical. I may have mentioned this. Looking at the profile, the email address appears to be the domain of Sheffield United FC. Gary Speed was manager of Sheffield United however there was over 15 months between him leaving that role and his untimely death. Furthermore, looking at the names of people who have looked at other profiles, there’s a faint whiff of the bogus profile about it. I can believe that Nick Clegg, Cherie Booth and Dean Holdsworth are on LinkedIn, but ‘fernando torres’, and ‘Rafa Banitez’ (sic)?
The creation of the bogus profile is certainly nothing new. Just look at those on Facebook and Twitter masquerading as Justin Bieber or Brad Pitt. At a lower celebrity level, I actually witnessed an uncomfortable Twitter argument between Richard Fearless of Death in Vegas and his impostor, which Mr Fearless effectively issued a cease and desist as the fake Mr Fearless was posting music, which was not to the taste of the real man. I often wonder why people create fake profiles. Are their lives so worthless that they have to live theirs vicariously through the online profiles of others. This is very misleading for fans and also quite uncomfortable for those who are victims.
In a way, it’s a form of identity theft. But traditionally, it’s been the preserve of Facebook or Twitter, or other ‘social’ networks. Going back to the original example, LinkedIn has built up a reputation of trust and legitimacy by connecting people who have done business together, have worked together and will work together in future. If however, LinkedIn is infiltrated by those pretending to be others, the legitimacy of LinkedIn is called into question. How do you know for instance that the profile of former head of RBS, Fred Goodwin, is not controlled by a spineless, dishonest individual that is looking to exploit you for their own selfish gain? You don’t. LinkedIn is a powerful network right now but if the legitimacy of those using it is compromised, LinkedIn’s power will diminish.
For those interested, you can view Gary Speed’s profile here: http://ow.ly/b1EKp