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LinkedIn, Please Take on Group Spammers

ImageAlmost like clockwork, I get a set of daily LinkedIn notices of off-topic job listings improperly posted as discussions to a Linkedin group I belong to. They're spam, and they drown out genuine discussions. They degrade the value of the LinkedIn group where they appear. The group owner is either disengaged or doesn't care. He ignores requests to remove and ban the frequent-repeat offenders, a coterie of accounts that match a couple of patterns that are easy-to-see, that is, if you're looking.

I'm hoping to get LinkedIn will act where the wayward group owner won't, hence this blog post: A call to LinkedIn to please take on group-discussion spammers. Systematic analysis linking group-posting behavior to account configurations will do the job:

Data science applied to quell a certain variety of abusive spam.

LinkedIn, here's what I see. Start with a bunch of Text Mining Group discussion spammers. These people have lots of disjointed group memberships but only minimal work-history listings, a few jobs with no descriptions:

The job titles, employers, and group memberships of each of these LinkedIn profiles are not consistent. A real-person's profile will have some linkage between what a person does, who that person works for, and what groups that person belongs to. And some of the employer companies listed are almost surely bogus. Thin Coal SpA, given in the last of the profiles above? Give me a break. So look for accounts that lack internal consistency and you'll find likely spammer accounts. Confirm by looking for spamming behavior -- bogus companies are a further confirmation -- then kill the accounts.

Other LinkedIn accounts indulge in spam group discussion postings but have more extensive profiles than the seven I listed above. They also share the trait that they belong to a grab-bag of disparate groups; perhaps they spam groups other than the one I belong to, Text Mining. I mean, check it out:

Interesting job descriptions that "Maria Sanchez" has. Copy-and-paste one sentence from one of those job descriptions into the Google search box, "Provides input and recommendations to the Talent Acquisition team for strategies and initiatives.", and up pop four LinkedIn profiles that use the same text:

If I search within LinkedIn on the same text, I see eighteen profiles that text, and remember, I see profiles only of accounts within my network. No doubt there are many more potential hits that I can't see.

Clearly someone created those accounts via a copy-and-paste job. Had I LinkedIn's resources, I'd systematically compare descriptions across profiles to find similarly cloned profiles. At best they'd indicate real-person plagiarism, perhaps forgivable, and at worst, they'd suggest an account set-up by a spammer. Again, suspicions should be confirmed by looking at actual use of the accounts.

LinkedIn, how about it? How about booting those spam accounts I'm pointing out here?

And readers, if you're into text mining, rather than the Text Mining group, I recommend the Text Analytics group. I'm a manager, but regardless, the group is bigger and it's largely spam-free. And also check out the Sentiment Analysis group. I'm partisan, but if you're into language-technology networking, these are great online venues for you.


Image: eldeiv/Shutterstock

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  • Mar 2 Posted 4 years ago milhealth

    I am in total agreement with everybody's sentiments re: SPAM. I hate Spam too! LinkedIn has changed their policy since this thread was posted, however, there never is a great "one size fits all" (filter) solution ... Non-Spammers also get snared in this as well. I've participated as a 'good citizen' in many groups ... I'm extremely respectful of each of the group's rules. However, it just takes one group leader's error or actions, whether intentionally or unintentional to adversely effect your ability to participate without 'comment moderation' in all your remaining groups.

    Imagine, being a participant in groups for 2-3 years, you've never violated the rules, never Spammed... and in the last group you join, the leader places you in 'moderation' (in error) because they didn't know exactly what to do (and didn't bother to read your comment to see it wasn't SPAM or that it didn't violate the group rules in the first place). Even when corrected, you are still stuck in the "Comment Moderation Loop from h*ll" ...., LinkedIn has been zero help, and although I did what they said I needed to do - I contacted ALL group leaders who were more than happy to 'fix my permissions' ...I'm still stuck in the loop. It isn't difficult for LinkedIn to take a looke at all my "Discussions" to see what information I post. Some of the group members (in several of my groups) have even contacted LinkedIn on my behalf because they have always appreciated the quality of information I share. I know nothing can be perfect, but when you are one of the 'innocent' ones stuck in this mess, and there is no one at LinkedIn to help you...(& in many groups, the leaders do not even check their 'comments pending' cues), you're 'dead in the water'. Any suggestions? Thanks,  ....."muzzled"

    Karen (in/milhealth) 

  • Sep 26 Posted 4 years ago Fran Mulhern

    Agree with all that's been said. I have a bunch of groups on Linkedin, one with almost 6,000 members. Just went through the latest 50, and 25 of them are obviously fake accounts. That's depressing. 

    Linkedin has gone so downhill it's unreal.

  • Victoria Ipri's picture
    Sep 24 Posted 4 years ago Victoria Ipri

    Ian, if this is LI's philosophy about group owners, then why is there still no way for hardworking, well-meaning group owners to list their groups on their profiles? Shouldn't we get 'brownie points'? I'm a power user with a big network, but this pet peeve remains unaddressed, despite LI's many recent improvements.

  • Jonathan Bennett's picture
    Sep 24 Posted 4 years ago Jonathan Bennett

    I have recently had to block people auto posting their blogs to one of the groups I manage. The group is specifically for marketing professionals in South Wales and while some of their blog posts are relevant the large majority are not. After blocking their auto updates I recieved an inbox message off them asking why I did this? Isn't it obvious, they don't engage with anyone else's post they simply want to generate traffice. I tried educating them that it's just as important to listen as it is to speak but they didn't care. 

  • Victoria Ipri's picture
    Sep 16 Posted 4 years ago Victoria Ipri

    Agree on all counts. LinkedIn fails in this regard and I'm fairly certain this was one of the reasons Chris Brogan left LinkedIn. I've had pretty good success with getting responses from LinkedIn about abuses, but suspending outright fake accounts and doing "something" about others on the fringes, so to speak, is a very slow process.

    For anyone reading this who was aware of the email that went directly to the "Abuse hotline", that email no longer exists. Those complaints are now handled by the Trust and Safety department, reached through the standard customer service email. My only complaint with this is when someone stalks me (and they do) and I complain about, LinkedIn shares my complaint with that person, but doesn't tell me what's going on. All I get is a standard response that it's been dealt with. Seems unfair.

  • SethGrimes's picture
    Jul 24 Posted 4 years ago SethGrimes

    Ian, I'm looking forward to application of the tools to the Text Mining group!

  • CandaceYu's picture
    Jul 24 Posted 4 years ago CJY

    Seth, excellent post on social spam.

    Spam really hurts the user experience. Your post reminds me of a challenge that my company tackled for AOL: spammers began posting malicious links and pornography to TechCrunch's TalkCrunch and an ad network threatened to stop ad service immediately if AOL didn't resolve the issue. (We wrote about the entire story on our blog: http://www.impermium.com/blog/2012/06/08/impermium-solves-social-spam-problems-for-techcrunch/)

    Building on executiveoasis's comment, automated tools (e.g. automated "flag as inapproriate") is a starting place to reduce spam but real-time technology would go a long way towards allowing moderators to get back to what they intended and users getting the most of what they signed up for. 

  • reastman's picture
    Jul 22 Posted 4 years ago reastman

    Seth, As I have said on more than on occasion, LinkedIn's failure to act on this for years is a disgrace, and   LinkedIn Groups are, as a result, pretty much of a social media train wreck.  People have been complaining about this for years, and if LinkedIn's track record is any indication, then we should have little expectation that LinkedIn will address this any time soon.  Why they allow this to continue is just flabbergasting.

  • Jul 21 Posted 4 years ago executiveoasis

    Your well thought out blog entry caught my attention and, of course, you raise many important points. Good for you for calling out some of the fake posters. This needs to be done more often. LinkedIn members can report them directly to LinkedIn using the Help Centre. It may take a while but they will eventually be removed if enough people complain.

    I want to comment as the Group Manager for what has grown to a community of over 80,000 event industry professionals on LinkedIn. I have been helping to manage this community since  December 2008 when we only had 4,000 members. At that time, LinkedIn didn't have an official Group Manager role. In April, 2009, as soon as functionality was available, the group owner invited me to be the Group Manager. We had 8,000 members. We now have a team of 15 moderators to manage the main group and 13 sub-groups.

    For the most part, it has been a highly positive experience but it has not been without its challenges. You see we have taken spam very seriously and we have not hesitated to issue warnings, ban some members and, when the tools became available, put some members on moderation so that we could view all of their posts before they go live.

    We've been through the fake profiles (I uncovered a network of over 100 with interlocking LinkedIn profiiles), job farms and generic posts that are routinely posted in 50 groups even  if they are not relevant. Through all of this, there are only two main challenges.

    I want to take a moment to react to one of your comments.

    The group owner is either disengaged or doesn't care. He ignores requests to remove and ban the frequent-repeat offenders, a coterie of accounts that match a couple of patterns that are easy-to-see, that is, if you're looking.

    There may be another side to this. While people say they don't want spam, very few will make even the smallest effort to do anything about it. Running a LinkedIn Group takes hard work and dedication. As groups grow, few will step and volunteer to moderate them but many are quick to criticize. It's understanable. Not everyone has the time or the flexible schedule to make it possible to be a moderator. What is surprising is that few members can be bothered to take even the smallest action to deal with spam. Spam control isn't the manger's problem, it is the community's problem and the community needs to take ownership. Heres iw what I mean.

    Our group took spam seriously. Very clear guidelines were set and these were included in the welcome letter and posted as discussions and in "Group Rules" when they became available. Members were asked to refrain from promotion. Topics that were high volume or spam magnets were migrated to their own subgroups where the membership was smaller and there was less temptation to "shot gun" promotion out to a large audience.

    Not everyone was happy. You see while almost, everyone who belongs to an on-line community says they want to keep it spam-free, many people are talking about other people's spam not their own. They want to be free to post their own content wherever and whenever they like.  

    In fact, I do recall that one individual created a very unpleasant situation. Despite a couple of warnings a few weeks earlier, he again violated one of our rules. I didn't ban him (although it was my right to do so). Instead I temporarily suspending him and let him know that this was just until I could confer with the Group Owner to determine next steps. (He was from a large portal and I knew I had to tread lightly.) He couldn't wait but immediately thrashed me personally on his blog. It was quite the attack.  Something very interesting happened. Members who had every been removed from the community or sent a warning after a number of violations, jumped in and personally attacked me. Some told out and out lies. It was not a pleasant experience. Imagine a prospective client searching for my services and instead finding a barrage of unpleasant comments.

    I wrote this a while back before LinkedIn has some of the tools that are now available:

    Crowdsourcing for Managing On-line Communities

    http://bit.ly/virtualcommunitymanagement

    After this upsetting experience, our group implemented the process described in the link above of getting members to manually flag spam by typing "this is spam and should be removed" in a discussion. (This was before LinkedIn had tools in place to automate the process.) Few members bothered to do this so we just let the spam pile up. The group was a mess.

    A couple of years ago, LinkedIn activated tools that gave group members the power to eliminate 100% of the spam in their groups. All members have to do when they see spam is click "Flag as Inappropriate". After a certain number of flags, the content is automatically deleted by LinkedIn. Despite numerous reminders, very few people bother to take a second to flag spam. The few who do, make a big difference. What has saved our community is their efforts and the ability to have new group members on moderation and place members who violate group rules back on moderation. For sure there have been some protests and attempts to post nasty comments when we have done that but our community is thriving, active and once again spam-free.

    I got off easy. While I did have one member leave a very nasty message on my voice mail, owners and managers of other large and successful LinkedIn Groups that are serious about spam have received nasty e-mails. Some have even had disgruntled members call their boss or the CEO of their company to complain. Clearly some professionals need to grow up and act like adults. Is it any wonder that some Group Manager's just throw up their hands and say "Who need this? You won, it's not worth it to fight you". So the next time you see a group filled with spam, true, maybe the Group Manager doesn't care. More likely, he or she has just given up.

    For group managers who have not given up, here are some tips based on what I've learned over the past 3 1/2 years of managing what has grown into a supergroup:

    LinkedIn - How to Grow a LinkedIn Supergroup http://t.co/Oet92ZM9

    Thank you for once again highlighting the problem of spam. The more discussions we have like this, the more members of on-line communities will do their part to keep these valuable resources spam-free.

  • learnit2earnit's picture
    Jul 21 Posted 4 years ago learnit2earnit

    Seth I feel your frustration.  When I experience spam within any group I'm a member of and the group manager hasn't done anything about it, that is when I question the group.  So there are a couple of times I left the group.  There are thousands more LinkedIn groups to enjoy.  I just wish these spammers would realize that people are fed up with their tactics. 

  • Jul 20 Posted 4 years ago BrandLove Staff

    I second that motion, Seth. Thanks for bringing this matter to the attention of LinkedIn. The spamming drives me nuts when I post discussions in groups and I get replies of "buy designer purses." 

  • Jul 20 Posted 4 years ago Ian

    @seth - thanks for the thoughtful post.

    Most of your first paragraph is pretty much exactly why we here on the LinkedIn Groups team created a new automatic tool for moving job-related posts out of the main Discussions area of a group into its Jobs area, where they belong.

    This tool just began rollout this week to a limited number of groups and - pending what we observe as rollout continues - should reach all groups within the next handful of weeks.

    If you're a group manager, you should already see in your group a new checkbox in Manage > Group Settings that reads, "Allow LinkedIn to move jobs automatically out of the Discussions area to the Jobs area."

    This box is defaulted on for all groups - we think all groups would really benefit from leaving it checked on - but different groups have different aims, so we built in the option for group managers to disable this new automated tool if desired.

    Automated tools are only part of the picture, of course, so I'd like to give a big public shout-out to all the group managers who actively moderate their groups and to all the group members who flag inappropriate stuff to their attention. Thank you - your individual efforts in specific groups are increasingly helping us all maintain the quality of the professional conversation across all groups.

    Lots more to come.

  • Jul 20 Posted 4 years ago Abram.Herman

    Hear, hear!

  • Jul 20 Posted 4 years ago metabrown (not verified)

    A couple of years ago, I wrote to LinkedIn about a profile that was obviously fraudulent posting garbage in a group. They replied, and their position was that it was up to the group manager to remove such members or not. Since then, the prevalence of these profiles has only increased, and it is one of the factors weakening the groups and discouraging legitimate participation.

  • SethGrimes's picture
    Jul 20 Posted 4 years ago SethGrimes

    RainMakerMaker, thanks for your comment. As you've understood, I think, my own focus is on accounts that have been set up for the sole purpose of posting a flood of solicitations to groups. The situation, when bona fide LinkedIn users post in ways others challenge, is more nuanced and also, I'll add not something that LinkedIn could detect via data mining and deal with when a group's managers don't.

  • RainMakerMaker's picture
    Jul 20 Posted 4 years ago RainMakerMaker

    Seth, I'd go so far as to suggest that the world has enough people that are irresponsible or look the other  way and when group managers fit that description, they should be removed. My example below isn't as deceptive as your examples, but it still hurts the group. (BTW, somebody suggested civility in the Inbound Networkers Group. I replied that it would be nice, but not the first priority.)

    Here's the exchange that occured after Alan made a blatant pitch as a comment. ----- means text deleted

    @Alan, I'm the one that flagged your comment as spam.---The big, successful partners --- would never post such a blatant sales pitch. Learn from them.

    ----

    (I can't believe that someone undid my flag. No balls.)

     

    ---- Alan replied ----

    @Rick - appreciate your comments (although I find this a very strong response - could have been handled a little more kindly) - you certainly misread my intent. The forum post is on collaboration. I thought I was "within bounds" letting this forum know what we can help with in a collaborative effort. Sorry if that offended you or any other members of the forum. Certainly not my intent. 

    By the way - it was not me who undid your flag so hope that comment was not direct this way.

     

    ---- the group manager replied ----

    I don't usually flag or unflag posts, but I had the same initial reaction as Rick: Would have been better in a different thread. It's not that related. This project isn't about outsourcing to each other, although I think that's valuable and would like to see more of it. No big deal though. Moving on. 

    I agree that Rick could be more kind. But, I've given up on that.

  • Jul 20 Posted 4 years ago barbfow50

    I joined the sentiment group. You are obviously passionate about this. I appreciate that. 

     

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