LinkedIn, Connections, and Trust

A few friends started a discussion about fake profiles connecting to us on LinkedIn. I'll try to summarize the thoughts and discussions we've had around topic.

Summary for the Impatient

I accept all connection requests. Don't treat "mutual connections" with me as anything valuable. Email/message me to ask about "mutual connections" or introductions. My profile is 100% open, connecting gets you nothing. Bad sales pitches are bad.

My Own LinkedIn Usage

First, a few basic facts about my own LinkedIn usage.

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  • Connection is lightweight. I connect with everyone, unless it's obviously a mass spam sales pitch. I don't validate anyone nor consider the connection more valuable than the effort it took to click "Accept". The valuable people already know they're valuable, just because we connected on a website is secondary to the relationship.
  • 75% of the unknown connections are sales pitches. The great sales people have done their background research and hone their pitch well.
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  • Ignore the "mutual connections" LI pitches to you for your suggested connections. I accept all connections, so there is a high probability of a first connection, even if I've never met the person outside of LI.
  • My entire profile is open. There is no secret information you'll receive by connecting with me.

Suspicions and Discussion

Four people have asked me about a few of my connections in the past two weeks. They are actual friends who were contacted by this person using their connection to me as justification. I consider this reputation laundering. "Hey, I claim to know Andrew, let's connect! He trusted me so you can too!"

These few people are convinced the profile is fake and I've been duped. All of those conditions can be true. Any decent fake profile is indistinguishable from real profiles. LI probably knows the likely fakes, because they have far more info about the person than they show me. I trust my friends feedback and remove the connection.

A few people with which I've discussed this topic use LI connections as strong, out of band, authenticated validation. They only connect to people they've met, or shaken hands after a meeting, or done business in some way. They validate the person's background is accurate. They want LI to represent their actual business network and connections. They're horrified at my causal connection protocol.

I started using LI just like they did. And then quickly realized for me, it made no sense. LI connections aren't like some sort of inside circle or cabal of business associates. I even dropped LI at one point when they updated their terms of service to take ownership of all content posted in the network. From informal polls at conferences, it seems people fall into three camps; strong authentication to connect, accept any connection request, ignore it and never pay attention to anything on LI.

In the end, I removed two connections based on group consensus these were fake profiles. And life moved on, just slowly.