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Monday, June 24, 2013

LinkedIn Takes Harassment & ID Theft Seriously! And so do other online forums.

Most people that sign-up on the professional network LinkedIn (LI) probably do not read the user agreement before they become a member. It explicitly states certain criteria that are not allowed when using LI and may cause LI to "restrict, suspend, or terminate the account of any Member who abuses or misuses the Services including abusing the LinkedIn message services and creating multiple or false profiles." It also prohibits harassment. Below is an abridged list of what is expected of LinkedIn members. Note: Not included in this list is many others including copyright infringement because they are outside the realm of this discussion.

LinkedIn expects its members to:
• Be Real. "Unlike some other online services, our members need to be real people, who provide their real names and accurate information about themselves. It is not okay to provide misleading information about yourself, your qualifications or your work experience, affiliations or achievements on LinkedIn’s service." Members are not allowed to:
– Create a Member profile for anyone other than a natural person.
– Upload a profile image that is not your likeness or a head-shot photo.
– Use or attempt to use another's account or create a false identity on LinkedIn.

• Be Professional. "We ask our members to behave professionally by not being dishonest or inappropriate. We acknowledge the value of discussions around professional activities, but we do not want you to use LinkedIn to shock or intimidate others. . . ." Members are not allowed to:
– Act dishonestly or unprofessionally by engaging in unprofessional behavior by posting inappropriate, inaccurate, or objectionable content to LinkedIn.

• Be Nice. "LinkedIn shouldn’t be used to harm others. It is not okay to use LinkedIn’s services to harass, abuse, or send other unwelcomed communications to people (e.g., junk mail, spam, chain letters, phishing schemes). . . ."

Case Story of Misusing LinkedIn Policies on Art of Licensing group

Recently a series of blog articles "Just launched a new series of blog posts about Legal in art & licensing with artist Jill Meyer as my first guest writer" was announced on LI Art of Licensing group. The blog article titled "Inspiration or Infringement" discusses artist Jill Meyer's experience with copyright infringement and the ramifications to artists that knock-off other artists work. An artist (Jennifer Bradley) posted a long comment on the Art of Licensing group and suggested that Jill show visuals of her art and the infringed art. In a later comment, Jennifer posted that it is a total fabrication that someone stole Jill's art. As the thread (comments to the post) continued Jennifer's comments became increasing abusive even though other artists stated they saw the infringed art and agreed that they were indeed knock-offs of Jill's work.

A few days after the start of the harassment, I joined the team of artists that were trying to reason with Jennifer. The following is my comment to the post describing what I discovered. ". . . I prefer to contact people via email instead of through LinkedIn so I use the LinkedIn profiles to get email address' usually by finding them on a persons website. When I wanted to contact artist Jennifer Bradley about some of her comments that she posted, her profile did not list her website so I Googled her name and when that didn't work I searched by her LinkedIn profile photo. I was shocked when I found her photo was linked to a person with another name and who is not an artist. THAT IS IDENTITY THEFT! I don't know why Jennifer Bradley did not use her own image in her profile but using someone else image is unethical and may be illegal!

By working together, our team was able to find the individual responsible for the harassment and who stole the victim's identity. It was reported to LI fraud department and they promptly removed Jennifer Bradley's profile so her comments could no longer be posted.

Consequences in Misusing LinkedIn Policies

LinkedIn takes abusing their policies seriously. They have terminated member accounts when members fail to post their image on their profile. And they also terminate members when they harass other members or create false profiles. Some people often use false profiles to comment on blogs and forums for various reasons. They also use false identities to comment on internet stores to endorse their own products in an attempt to increase sales. But false identities will not be tolerated on LinkedIn, Facebook and other forums as shown in the following section on Identity Theft is Illegal.

So what is the big deal? So what if you are kicked-off of LinkedIn by misusing their policies? Well, the real issue is the integrity of the individual who stole an identity like the Jennifer Bradley case described above. During the investigation of the case, comments on numerous forums questioned if this person was also stealing art and representing it as her own. After all, she was dishonest in stealing an identity. If it becomes known publicly the name of the artist who stole the victims identity and used it to harassed another artist, it will definitely impact her ability to license art. Manufacturers expect honesty and integrity from artists just like artists expect it from them.

So this is a warning for those who use a false identity(s) on LinkedIn. DON'T! You may get caught and pay the consequences.

Identity Theft is Illegal
Some people mistakenly think that using a false profile is not really identity theft and is not illegal. And, anyway no one will sue you because it costs too much, right? Wrong!

Dana Thornton of New Jersey was prosecuted in 2011 for creating a false Facebook page in her ex-boyfriends name who is a police officer. She posted comments portraying him as using drugs, hiring prostitutes and having a sexually transmitted disease. The judge ruled against her because Thornton's ex-boyfriend is a narcotics officer. Assertions of criminal activity can ruin his career. For her crime, Dana was given probation if she successful completes a one year PPT program which requires her to regularly see a probation officer, complete 50 hours of community service and undergo a psychological evaluation. The Dana Thornton case was highly publicized and you can imagine what this did to her reputation. Read the following for more information "Making a Fake Facebook Page is Identity Theft", "Nasty fake Facebook pages not OK -- that's ID theft, judge says", "Belleville woman accused of creating fake Facebook page to mock ex-boyfriend gets probation."

Also read a pdf formatted fact sheet about social media online "Identity Theft".

Forums are cracking down on harassing and identity thefts. For instance, the popular forum Facebook does not permit impostors and bullying as shown in Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Breaking the rules will remove you from the forum. This will affect not only connecting with friends but could affect business' if Facebook is used to drive customers to websites or other online business websites like Etsy and Zazzle.

Be Proactive
LinkedIn groups are for professionals and members should act like professionals. Help protect members in LinkedIn groups from harassment and be proactive. If you are being harassed or you see others that are being harassed report it to the group moderator so that LinkedIn fraud department can investigate and remove the offender if it is warranted. Likewise be proactive on other forums and report any bulling to moderators. You can make a difference!

Note: It looks like LinkedIn and social networks are being used for stalking besides harassment.  Read "LinedIn Stalker Concerns Prompt Petition to Add Blocking Feature."

The comment section to this article has been closed and all comments removed.  While my policy is to show all viewpoints on my posts, the comments on this thread became antagonistic and threatened to reveal private communications that may be harmful to all involved in a private dispute.  Artists work in a professional industry and should act like professionals.