LinkedIn’s ‘Blacklist’ Censors Thousands of Legitimate Users
- A moderator can stop a member from posting in any group they belong to
- LinkedIn power users losing thousands of dollars a month in lost opportunities
- SWAM blacklist used for retributive strikes against competitors
In early June Rini Das couldn’t work out why her posts to LinkedIn groups had stopped appearing.
“I kept saying, That’s odd, I’m getting moderated continuously. I thought it must be something wrong with my Firefox settings,” says Das, whose company in Ohio, US, generates 90 percent of its revenue from LinkedIn traffic.
It took Das, chief executive of software company Pakra, a week to discover she had been blocked and deleted by a moderator in one group and, by default, placed on a blacklist that restricted her from posting comments on any other group on the network.
In LinkedIn speak, Das had been SWAMed.
SWAM, or Site Wide Auto-Moderation, a LinkedIn policy introduced in December, is effectively a form of crowd-sourced blacklisting. It’s a weapon in the professional network’s covert war on spammers who use fake accounts to post links in groups or email members.
But Das, as well as at least several thousand other legitimate LinkedIn users, had been mistakenly classified as spammers. LinkedIn has some 218 million members worlwide, 4 million in Australia. It has more than 1.5 million groups.
LinkedIn has confirmed the existence of the policy but has aggravated the situation by refusing to establish an appeals process. Members say the company pushes angry users back on unaware moderators – and, in some cases, deletes support tickets that dare mention SWAM.
While mid-level LinkedIn executives have claimed to know nothing about the blacklist, BoxFreeIT has sighted emails alerting the most senior levels of management. SWAM has continued to operate despite the company’s commitment to “putting our members first”.
“LinkedIn may have had the best of intentions putting this out there, but (SWAM is) destroying the LinkedIn community, it’s destroying the users of the groups, and their approach really lays bare their bad management practices,” says Matthew Weaver, a project management consultant in Washington, DC who moderates LinkedIn groups with over 250,000 members.
Outsiders may wonder why people would care so much about being ejected from a social network. But unlike a Facebook profile, members use LinkedIn indirectly to generate business leads.
Das’ company Pakra uses LinkedIn to find leads for its $40,000 enterprise software. Weaver and other consultants give advice in forum groups and in return are asked to quote on proposals. SWAM has cost some users thousands of dollars a month in lost opportunities, and LinkedIn has lost premium memberships and advertising as frustrated users protest their pariah status.
Mark Vang, a social media expert in Virginia, US who has moderated groups with over 700,000 members, says SWAM is undermining LinkedIn’s most loyal users – the people who post discussions and comment on groups which drive up LinkedIn’s internet traffic and popularity.
“They’re watching their business being destroyed by the same company that says they’re trying to help you become a success in business,” Vang says.
LinkedIn’s secret weapon against spam
When LinkedIn introduced SWAM in December it massively upgraded the power of the Block and Delete button used by group moderators to throw out spammers and problem members.
Block and Delete, sometimes referred to as “going nuclear”, deletes all posts by a member from the group, delists them as a member and bans them from joining the group again. With Site Wide Auto-Moderation, the blocked member is effectively labelled a spammer by LinkedIn and flagged for moderation in every other group they belong to (members can belong to up to 50 groups).
Users who have found themselves SWAMed have reacted angrily to its severity and the way it was introduced.
Next page: Power without oversight