|Pictured: LinkedIn profile pictures recognition for better results.|
LinkedIn is one of the country’s biggest and most helpful online services when it comes to seeking employment and professional networking. They are known to bring users to real employers and help them with career success in a very safe way. At the beginning of 2022, this changed drastically when it was found that many profiles that were being used on LinkedIn were fake accounts. Not only do these fake accounts violate LinkedIn’s policies, but it also makes it an unsafe environment for users who can have their identity stolen and tricked into thinking they are legit accounts. LinkedIn is now taking action to delete many accounts and has removed more than 15 million since the beginning of 2021 (Bond, 2022). This is just one step further to removing all these accounts and LinkedIn is working hard to try to delete them all, but new technologies are making it more difficult.
At the beginning of 2022, a veteran researcher, Renee DiResta, had noticed something off from one of the profiles she had gotten a message from on LinkedIn. The first thing she noticed is that the profile picture looked like it was very fake. For example, the profile that went by the name of Ramsey had a picture that was missing an earring on one side, had hair blurring into the background, the placement of the eyes was exactly centered, and the background was blurry. With a combination of all these details, it showed DiResta that she was dealing with a computer-generated AI profile picture. DiResta told one of her colleagues, Josh Goldstein, about her findings and worked with Stanford researchers on an investigation to find more fake profiles. After doing this they ended up uncovering more than 1,000 LinkedIn profiles using what appeared to be faces created by artificial intelligence (Lusina, 2022).
LinkedIn has acknowledged and has been committed to removing these accounts. They have done so and have removed millions of fake accounts from when the problem arose. Although they made great efforts to remove the accounts from the Social Networking website some accounts have now adapted and are relatively genuine and difficult to decipher from a true user. There are some common things that LinkedIn Consultants Trainers (Goodman) tell the users to look out for. Particularly things that include, profile pictures that look too good to be true, receiving multiple invitations from the same company, a suspicious work history (Look for endorsements from the employers or employees they may work with), and profiles with too many connections can be too good to be true are all possibilities and things to look out for. Many users receive messages that they are qualified for the offers.
|Pictured: Users receive a message that the sender has an offer for them.|
After more research about the fake accounts was done, it became prominent that the technology being used to generate the fake profile pictures are Generative Adversarial Network (GAN). This technology uses real pictures to create fake AI humans which can be indistinguishable from real humans. Out of the 1,000 accounts discovered by DiResta that used GAN, 70 of these accounts linked back to real companies (Slater-Robins, 2022). When they reached out to these companies to ask about the fake profiles, many of them had no clue about them and stated that they hired other companies to help with finding potential customers. One of the companies that had accounts was called RingCentral. They had many fake profiles that said they worked there but the company claimed that they never worked there. RingCentral said they had hired other people to help with finding potential customers and one of these companies used GAN (Bond, 2022). Many other companies had the same response showing that this is a big issue that LinkedIn must find a way to deal with.
There are a lot of CEOs for companies that are unaware of the fake accounts saying they are associating with the company as they believe they are truly real accounts. They believed that they were real people and that they were just trying to connect with the company to obtain opportunities, not deceive the real users trying to obtain opportunities. A lot of fake accounts have become skilled and advanced in deception. Many people as stated by NPR have said the fake accounts seemed to be of someone familiar not knowing that the photo was generated by a computer and is completely fake. Many people don’t even know they are connecting with these fake accounts and are under the assumption that they are truly real. “LinkedIn removed more than 15 million fake accounts in the first six months of 2021, according to its most recent transparency report. It says the vast majority were detected during signup, and most of the rest were found by its automatic systems before any LinkedIn member reported them.” (Bond) LinkedIn is committed to trying to keep its Social Networking platform safe and accessible to all users. But AI is becoming so advanced that it is making it difficult to detect all of the fake accounts they have been plagued with over the years.
The ethical theory that will be discussed for this ethical based issue is Individualism. This includes Friedman’s Theory and Machan’s Individualism. Friedman’s individualism theory is, “The only goal of business is to profit, so the only obligation that the business person has is to maximize profit for the owner or the stockholders within the law or the rules of the game.” (Salazar 11:10) Friedman’s Individualism theory explains that businesses need to do just what needs to be done to keep the business running so long that the business profits. This view is extended to if any action is taken without considering profit, then that is stealing from the owner of the company. It is a very persuasive view. Overall, the points of view are outdated and not aligned with today's social and ethical norms. Next is Machan’s Individualistic theories. His theories involve, “The only direct goal of business is to profit, and the primary obligation of the business person is to maximize profit within the law, but: 1. The direct goal of profiting may need to be met by indirect goals not aimed at profiting. 2. Business people may have other goals and those goals may at times be prioritized over the goals of profit-maximizing.” (Salazar 24:00) These goals are aligned slightly differently from Friedman’s point of view. Friedman’s focus is profit, whereas Machan has a slightly different approach in which the main goal is profit but this may be by completing indirect goals. This can include social-economic or environmental goals that can improve the image of the company as well as bring in profit for the company.How does Individualism apply to the issue that LinkedIn is focusing on maybe a little tricky to decipher? From Friedman’s perspective, LinkedIn may be operating for a profit which is against the law and the rules of the game. The lack of user privacy would be the factor that is being violated in an individualist’s mind. These fake accounts are a danger and risk to professionals across the world. The individualistic approach would look at this case to be impermissible. This is because the company is not doing everything, it possibly can to protect the privacy of its professionals. This is hurting their image as these fake accounts continue to deceive and mislead the professionals trying to make a living and open new doors or opportunities. “A recent study found faces made by AI have become "indistinguishable" from real faces. People have just a 50% chance of guessing correctly whether a face was created by a computer — no better than flipping a coin.” (Bond) It is almost impossible for those just looking quickly at the profile to distinguish it from real or fake. Most people’s minds will gravitate towards believing that it is a truthful account or maybe even someone that looks familiar to them. The Machan Individualist would look at this the same way. LinkedIn cannot get a good read on what accounts are fake and what ones are real because of how advanced Artificial Intelligence is getting. They try to detect all the fake accounts they possibly can at the creation of the account. But because AI is so advanced now it is difficult for them to detect all the fake accounts. To a modern individualist, LinkedIn would be ethically responsible for wasting money by not doing enough to protect their user’s privacy, as well as portraying a bad image and losing important relationships with their professionals on their Social Networking website.
A utilitarian would view LinkedIn’s way of handling the situation as a good, ethical way to do so. In utilitarianism, it states, “Happiness or pleasure are the only things of intrinsic value” (Salazar, 6). This means that from a utilitarian point of view if whatever is being done creates happiness, then that is the right thing to do. On the contrary, if something makes somebody not pleased or unhappy then it is the wrong thing to do. In this case, happiness is in the process of being maximized for mostly all the stakeholders.
LinkedIn (Company): After this case is resolved and LinkedIn takes care of all the fake profiles and accounts then they will be both negatively and positively impacted from a utilitarian point of view. Now they are most likely making users unhappy which causes them to also deal with the stress of making the website safe and living up to the policies they have. Once all of this is dealt with then they will be happy again to have gotten rid of the false information and fake accounts.
LinkedIn Users: Similarly, to the company, LinkedIn users are most likely upset and negatively impacted at the moment because they are getting a lot of spam accounts and messages. They also must deal with the risk of accidentally getting their information leaked and their identity stolen. Currently, this situation goes against a utilitarian point of view, but once LinkedIn continues to delete accounts and make its platform safe again, this will ultimately make the users happy again as well.
Companies Using Fake Profiles: Currently, these companies are very happy with being able to use many fake profiles. This gives them a lot of advantages such as saving money, reaching out to more customers, and getting a boost in sales. This could change once LinkedIn deletes more accounts because then they might be held accountable for using these fake profiles even if it’s because they hired a company that set them up for them.
Future Shareholders: Depending on how this situation unfolds and how LinkedIn handles it can affect how the future shareholders stand on the situation. For example, this could well with utilitarianism because if LinkedIn fixes the situation fast and shows that it is a reliable company, more people might trust it again and join which could help improve the stock. On the contrary, if more and more spam and fake accounts start to exist then this could negatively affect LinkedIn which would also cause unhappiness among the shareholders.
Future Prospective Employees: In the state that LinkedIn is in the future prospective employees might be unhappy because of how difficult it is to find jobs using the platform. Also, they must avoid any fake accounts and make sure they do not leak their information. Once things are resolved they will become a lot happier.
It is evident that LinkedIn’s actions were ethical in a utilitarian view. Many of the stakeholders are either happy at the moment or will be happy once everything is finally dealt with. Fake profiles are an apparent thing on most applications and websites of this nature. The way that LinkedIn is currently dealing with it shows promise of not letting this happen again and how they really follow all their policies and want to guarantee safety and real people on their platform.
Kant’s ethical theory is based on his conceptions of human worth. Kant believes that everyone has the right and his own decision to make not just himself happy, but others feel the same way as well. When we apply Kant’s ethical theory to the LinkedIn fake profiles, Kant’s theory will go against this because Kant thinks that when you decide what to do, you should act in a way that your audience can accept your decision and agree with you. Treat others as you want yourself to be treated by others. In Kantianism, when you never want to hurt yourself, your decision can also be not based on principles that can hurt others. If others accept your will, you are good in the eyes of Kant. Kantians will see that fake profile creators have been raised to long for the short-term rewards of response on their posts, but not to show the truth and reality to others from their own will, but to get others' likes and become famous in the eyes of others. When you lie on social media by either creating fake profiles or giving wrong information, lying is wrong whatever reason you have for the lie in Kant’s point of view. Trusting your communication and building relationships are supported by Kant.
When LinkedIn officers provided many statements to prove themselves correct that their company has many policies against the users who break their policies, but the policies are not implemented practically. They have breakage in their system that they hide from social media, so their consumers are not reduced because thousands of professionals have premium memberships that they pay monthly fees. LinkedIn did not help the public detect the scammers, but to keep their profits growing. “There are still ways by which you can reduce the magnitude of the risk” (Kumari). Identification of the thefts on any social media platform is very crucial as people have their personal information uploaded on those platforms. Security for any platform is very necessary to keep the audience engaged and trustworthy. Many of the videos can be watched on other platforms to keep yourself protected from those fake profile creators and scammers.
There are many social media platforms that have complaints about the creation of fake profiles and giving false information to users. When the right actions and the right people are hired to detect the scammers, the illegal actions can be reduced. When you will not give your personal information to anyone regardless of the social media platform, a number of cases of spam can be detected. LinkedIn has to implement its policies on its largest professionally growing platform to help consumers safely contact and remain engaged with their employees or digital community. Kantians do not act inconsistently in their own actions, so based on the formula of humanity, Kantians will respect others as they respect themselves. When Kantian will look at the fake LinkedIn profile accounts, he will complain to the officials because he does not want others to be scammed as it is the formula of humanity in the eyes of Kantians.
Virtue Theory essentially can be determined based on whether it works or not. For example, do fake profiles work in what needs to be accomplished? You would have different answers depending on which side of the situation you are on. The people who are being contacted by the false profiles would say that it does not work, while the other side, the people who are hiring the fake profile bots, would say they are successful in obtaining the requested information. Virtue theory is limited based on our perspective on what the purpose is. Virtue theory comes down to 4 virtues of character: courage, temperance, justice/fairness, and honesty. The virtue of courage means that a person is ok with taking a risk and is willing to take a stand for the right ideas and actions. For example, if employees of the companies that were using these false profiles knew about them and their shady practices, in order to be considered courageous, they would be the ones who would take a stand for the company to stop using them. The next virtue of character is honesty, an honest person is someone that is truthful to others. “The virtue of honesty certainly does have instrumental value, since others will trust an honest businessperson and be more likely to do business with him”(Wittmer and O’Brien) For example, if a company wants to be considered honest and want to gain trust with their consumers, they would not be using false LinkedIn profiles to lure in potential customers. The next theory of character in business is justice or fairness, which means that individuals should be treated the same unless they differ in ways that are relevant to the situation. For example, LinkedIn users should not have to try and differentiate real people from AI, while the blame can be put on the companies that are using the false profiles to obtain personal information, as it is not fair to the consumer to have their data being collected without their knowledge. The final virtue is temperance, temperance essentially means to do things in moderation, for example, if the company that is hiring these false profiles uses them to collect thousands of people’s data, this is not showing temperance, as they are overusing the services that are unethical in the first place. If a business wants to be considered virtuous, it must be willing to have all 4 of these characteristics. The virtue of character that is most in question in this article is honesty. Are companies that use this method of an advertisement being honest with their consumers? A company that has to lie to potential consumers to get their data is obviously doing something wrong, whether they are lying for the potential benefit of the consumer does not matter as being honest to the consumer is a large part of operating an ethical and virtuous business.
LinkedIn User: As a LinkedIn user, you expect to use the website for authentic business connections, and when a fraudulent account connects with you and takes your information, this is not what you intended to happen. This is considered a vice, a vice is something that is lacking virtue, and having your information taken for an unknown purpose is not what the consumers intended. If consumers wanted to give their information to these companies, they would not be using LinkedIn, especially if they knew they were being misled. Honesty is one of the main components of virtue, and when we are being tricked into believing that the other person is real, how could we ever choose to trust the business?
Fake Profile Purchaser: As someone that wants to increase their marketing, a fake profile would seem like the way to go. You could reach a certain area of people by searching what job they currently have and using fake profiles to get information like their names, phone numbers, and emails. You could then use this data collected to further market your product. From this side of the Virtue Theory, you could almost argue that it is acceptable, being that it satisfies your goals. The main goal of the false profiles is to collect data, so you are able to market your product to people of a certain demographic. But it is not virtuous, as you are conflicting with one of the main virtues of character, honesty. Being dishonest with your consumer base is not how you want to attract them to your company, as they will have reservations about your intentions from the start.
Overall, Virtue Theory would assess the use of false identities as morally impermissible, as it goes against one of the main virtues of character, honesty. If companies were to hire real people with real names and real jobs to promote their product, that would be considered permissible, but until then they should stop hiring these artificially created people to try and promote their product. The workers of the companies that are using these false profiles need to be more courageous and speak up and take a stand against their companies for using artificial intelligence, as this is considered morally impermissible. The companies also need to be more temperate, and not be greedy with their data collection. These AI can collect thousands of users’ data very efficiently, but they are not doing this in moderation, they are trying to get as much data from consumers as possible, while the morally correct way would be not using fake people and collecting the data a normal way through ethical resources. Finally, this is not justifiable or fair to the consumer, as these companies are misleading their potential customers from the very first point of contact, their consumers are being led on and not being given the facts. If the business that uses these false profiles were to work on these 4 virtues of character in business, they would be considered morally permissible, but until they change what they are doing, using false profiles will continue to be morally impermissible and should be stopped by both LinkedIn and the companies that are using the software.
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