The social contract of social media

I've recently had some strange LinkedIn connection requests. One of them apparently from a senior official of a bank. Whilst not completely unheard for me to receive some unexpected requests they usually come with some explanatory message, for example from agents wanting to discuss an employment opportunity or asking for recommendations. Often it's obvious that they work in a sector related to areas I'm familiar with and there are at least a couple of mutual connections.

I could be considered a bit cagey when it comes to my use of social media channels. I rarely connect with people on LinkedIn whom I haven't actually worked with on something or have some business opportunity to converse over. Having been employed by the same company is not criteria enough nor is a chance meeting and one deep conversation on open source versus commercial at a conference. And whilst I may accept connection requests from colleagues at an organisation I am working with during the term of my engagement, I will look back a couple of times a year and drop connections where I don't envisage an enduring relationship. Likewise my criteria for Facebook friends is either you are an actual friend or family member and we socialise together, you're in my wider social network even if we're not best buds, or I would choose to cultivate a friendship with you outside of work, location or circumstance.

So as you can imagine, I do my homework on people who request connections on my professional network. And my warning bells went off regarding this banker. The account was obviously new, I couldn't validate his position at the bank, our mutual connections first numbered one and then two in the space of a day. Suspicious. It bothered me enough to look up the published board members of the bank and there were no correlating documents, media releases or other useful search results marrying the person and the company. I left it in my inbox and a few days later the invitation disappeared as did the person's profile.

The reason I am careful with my connections and why I prune regularly is because I use LinkedIn as verification, both for myself and for others. Unless we carry out a full security check on every applicant for a job, it's difficult to verify that what's in their CV is actually anywhere near reality. Sometimes evidence is a simple Google search away. If you search for me you'll still find an article on the Lincoln University website regarding the launch of a student intranet and another on the establishment of an IT Project Office: so yes, I really was there to put online enrollment facilities together; I really do know what working in the tertiary education sector in New Zealand requires. But outside of those things, LinkedIn and my connections with other people who've also worked for the organisations I've worked with, is one way to validate me and my experience.

In effect there is a social contract in place that we each will be responsible for validating our contacts and we can rely on each other to be effective gatekeepers. There's the expectation that we allow trusted others into our wider network and that information, such as our contact details, that we restrict to our network is being opened to people who don't have intent to be a nuisance or worse. If we start to distrust that network and begin to lock our information into tighter and tighter security circles we basically undo the primary advantage of having a professional network.

So, in this world of easy click or tap to allow people in I take my duties seriously. Are you playing your part?
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