Dug Campbell

LinkedIn “Not Good For Bad Employees” Shocker

I was reading today that LinkedIn are facing a lawsuit from a few individuals who claim that the site has done the opposite of what is was created to do – namely hampered their job prospects.

The proposed class-action lawsuit has been brought by four individuals who claim that the site’s ‘Reference Search’ facility – an option open to paid users which lets them identify individuals who might have worked with someone at a business during a certain time – had resulted in them being turned down for jobs. The implication is that there was some less-than-complimentary feedback about the individuals that was uncovered as part of the research.

Their case is based on a old piece of US legislation from 1970 known as the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This basically says that if you give information about individuals to third parties so that they can carry out pre-employment checks, you have a legal obligation to ensure that the information is accurate – plus the third party has to inform the individual is being denied a job because of such information.

Now, in the absence of a DeLorean, I don’t think anyone’s claiming that the legislators could have reasonably foreseen the internet, let alone the growth of social media platforms when they drafted the Act. But even ignoring that, it seems to me that the plaintiffs’ premise is flawed on a number of fronts – not least, because all of the information about their old work colleagues is freely available on LinkedIn already. All that the ‘Reference Search’ facility does is simplify the search process, by matching up companies and dates of employment with others, as a perk of subscription.

As I understand it, anyone with the same motivation could, if they chose, just sit down and dig into the data to find individuals who were potentially ex-colleagues of job applicants before then making direct approaches with InMail to seek unsolicited references.

Reputation’s an interesting area – and one’s that continues to evolve with the growth of our digital world. Each of us subconsciously reveals a slightly different side to ourselves according to the environment that we find ourselves in during different parts of the same day. But when you gift all of your professional information (and more) somewhere like LinkedIn, surely you should be taking the rough with the smooth. It makes it infinitely much easier for others to find you (and, by extension, to employ you) – but at the same time, the importance of leaving a high-quality trail of experiences in your wake increases also. There’s not many cupboards left for those skeletons to hide in these days.

Part of the issue here I suspect is that people start to believe that as the so-called ‘professional’ platform, LinkedIn is just a virtual land within which you have complete control of the publicity that surrounds your working life. And most of the time, of course, it is exactly that, with its unbalanced  endorsement mechanisms for example. But the reality is that the technology itself is neutral. If you’ve left a wake of bad work experiences in your wake, then you’re probably not in the best position to start complaining.

But what about the malicious ex-colleague who you never got on with? Well, that’s where things do start to get more complicated admittedly. But whether LinkedIn is the method by which someone finds these people or not, it’s hardly the company’s fault that they exist.

Whilst I’m on the topic of identity and reputation, if you’re interested in the topic at all, I recommend you take a listen to great episode of the LetsTalkBitcoin podcast earlier this week. Titled ‘The Philosophy of Identity’, it’s another great discussion on topic on the back of Chris Ellis’ latest project, the ‘World Citizenship Passport’.