Aug. 29, 2022

How to Fight Fake Information on LinkedIn

One third of LinkedIn profiles contain false information


Nora chats with entrepreneur Eric Ly, a cofounder of LinkedIn who started a company called KarmaCheck, which uses AI to make the background check process easier for hiring managers. He details why KarmaCheck and the technology it uses is a big deal—not only for LinkedIn, but also when it comes to fighting misinformation all over the internet…even on dating profiles. For more info on our presenting sponsor, check out realvision.com/businesscasual

 

Host: Nora Ali

Producer: Olivia Meade   

Video Editor: Sebastian Vega

Production, Mixing & Sound Design: Daniel Markus

Music: Daniel Markus & Breakmaster Cylinder

Fact Checker: Kate Brandt 

Senior Producer: Katherine Milsop

VP, Head of Multimedia: Sarah Singer 

 

Full transcripts for all Business Casual episodes available at https://businesscasual.fm

Transcript

Nora Ali: For Morning Brew, this is Business Casual, bringing you conversations with people you know, and some you may not know yet, to make business less intimidating. Because money talks, but it does not have to be dumb. I'm your host, Nora Ali. Now let's get down to business.

Here's a stat that may or may not surprise you. A recent study conducted by LendEDU found that about a third of LinkedIn profiles contain false information. That ranges from areas as broad as skills, to some very fact-checkable fields like education and even work experience. It turns out that one of LinkedIn's original cofounders is aiming to fix that. Eric Ly started a company called KarmaCheck that uses AI to make the background check process much easier for hiring managers, so you won't be tricked into hiring or working with liars anymore.

Eric stopped by to talk about why KarmaCheck and the technology it uses is a big deal, not only for LinkedIn, but also when it comes to fighting misinformation all over the internet, even on dating profiles. Yes, a dating app called CarpeDM used KarmaCheck to background check their users. What a dream for those of us who are scared to meet strangers IRL. Eric also offered some great advice for hiring managers and job seekers looking to stand out on the internet. One surprising red flag employers should look out for: a candidate who claims expertise in too many fields. Plus, why you should never underestimate the power of a good reference. For those of you looking to change jobs or hire people, or just have a better online professional presence, this episode will leave you taking lots and lots of notes, I promise. All of that and more is next, after the break. Eric, welcome to Business Casual. Excited to have you here.

Eric Ly: Great to be here, Nora. How are you?

Nora Ali: I'm so great. There's so many topics to get to with you, but I do want to start with a little icebreaker. It's called Professional Pet Peeves. Eric, you've had a lot of different jobs, you've had a storied career, so I'm sure you have interesting answers to this. But if you could wave a magic wand and get rid of some kind of workplace interaction, something people do, something people don't do that just totally annoys you, what would you get rid of? What is your workplace pet peeve?

Eric Ly: Well, Nora, I had a feeling you were going to ask that, so I gave it some thought this morning. I've had a chance to work with a lot of different people and honestly, to get used to working with a lot of different kinds of people. But over the years, I believe that the professional pet peeve that bothers me the most is when people say that they're going to do something and they don't end up doing it. That really bugs me. I know today we're going to talk about trust a lot, so this comes back to that whole idea around trusting people and being able to work with them.

Nora Ali: I think that is relatable to everyone. You just want people to follow through what they say they're going to do, regardless of your job. So yeah, let's get to KarmaCheck, because you're helping hold people accountable, helping employers trust who they're hiring. KarmaCheck makes background checks more seamless, and part of what you do at KarmaCheck is to combat the false information that is found on one third of LinkedIn pages. We know people lie on the internet, we know people lie on their dating profiles for example, but this 34% number on LinkedIn really surprised me. For you as a cofounder of LinkedIn, did this one third false information metric surprise you when you found this out?

Eric Ly: It did surprise me. Like all of us, we expected some kind of false information out there online. When people put this information up, it's not always truthful, so you always have to take things with a grain of salt. I expected that there would be some amount of that, but to have it be so high was actually very interesting. There was a study done a few years ago by ADP, which is one of the largest payroll companies in the country, and they found, yeah, this statistic that when they were running background checks, there were so many people who basically falsified their employment history or their educational background. It's quite a significant number. I was very surprised that it was that high.

Nora Ali: What are the kinds of things people are falsifying? Is it past employment? The level that they've gotten to? Their promotions? What kinds of information are people embellishing?

Eric Ly: Well, people like to put their achievements very high to represent themselves. It's a natural human instinct. Be it titles, what they did in their roles. One of the more recent things that I've discovered is that because people change jobs quite a lot, they often leave their current position as being present, even though they have already left that job. Maybe it helps them get the next job more easily and not have to explain why they've already left. It's things like that that tends to be very easy to crop up in somebody's LinkedIn profile.

Nora Ali: I wonder if that matters a little less these days, whether you have a current employer or not, because people are leaving their jobs and switching jobs so much. Do you feel like maybe employers are more accepting of people who have left or quit to try to put their full selves into finding the next thing? I guess, what are some of the shifts in the red flags or green flags that potential employers are looking for in who they're hiring?

Eric Ly: There's a lot of different trends happening in the labor market. On the one hand, you have more fluidity in the market, where people are changing jobs more often. You have the gig economy going on, where it's the norm for people to switch very frequently. I would say for those types of positions, how long you've been at a previous job matters less. But there are still many long-term full-time employment positions, important executive-level positions where you're hiring someone, you want them to stay for many years to work together with. It's in those positions where how long you've spent, what you've done at previous positions really does matter. Going back to my pet peeve, saying if you've done certain things when you haven't, it matters a lot. It's important still in quite a lot of positions in corporate America today.

Nora Ali: Yeah, I guess that's a good point, is if you're looking for someone at an executive level, you don't necessarily want to hire someone who's bounced around a ton, and someone who can stick to being in a particular position for many years. But what are some of the red flags that managers should be looking for now? Some of our listeners are at that management and that executive level. As they're hiring, what are some of the clear flags to look for?

Eric Ly: For every kind of position that one can consider, there are different aspects that you want to look for. I've had a hand in hiring lots of different kinds of people for companies that I've been with and cofounded. You want to make sure that you look for those, but this job-hopping, I think it used to be very popular back in the dotcom days when people would just switch jobs to get a raise or to get a promotion in their title. If you see people moving around quite a bit, it at least begs the question, why did they do it? Then secondly, I think that there is something about overselling your resume. If on a resume, somebody says they can do it all, it's hard to believe that, because when someone gets good at something, they have to focus on it and there's only so much that anyone can do. I think those are some of the things that one should look for when looking at people's resumes or profiles.

Nora Ali: I went through the hiring process recently, and one of the most important factors to me is referrals and references. If someone comes highly recommended or even one person recommends them, that boosts their resume to the top of the pile automatically. But I've also come across employers who don't believe in references because the work should speak for itself, and that person's resume and their profile should speak for itself. What are your thoughts on both referrals and especially calling up former coworkers to get that reference check?

Eric Ly: I believe in the power of referrals. The insight there is that you are getting people who are recommended, who are more or less similar to someone who you're comfortable with, that you trust. There's a pretty good chance that person meets many of the criteria that you're looking for in a new position, so that's really valuable. In terms of references, I've done it both ways as well. I've hired people when I didn't do references and also I check references. I have to say I've been burned by not checking references, and I've learned a lesson there over the years. There is definitely something to having the work speak for itself, but I think what's valuable about references is that it goes beyond what's on the resume or the profile and allows them to tell you what it's like to work with that person. Oftentimes I find when you're hiring for a position, it's more important to understand the attitude and the motivation of that person than what they've done. Did they do what they said? Did they do it quickly or did they just drag themselves through it, which is not as great.

Nora Ali: Basically it comes down to being a good human, right? It's doing what you say you're going to do, being pleasant to work with, being a good teammate and coworker. To your point, you brought up the gig economy and the nature of work is changing, the nature of employment is changing. It's important to have background checks for things like Uber drivers, and there's actually a testimonial on your KarmaCheck website from a dating app founder that's one of the first dating apps to background check users. Who exactly is using KarmaCheck? Because it sounds like the client base, the user base is probably pretty varied at this point.

Eric Ly: Well, we started KarmaCheck to really go after this background check industry, which primarily gets used in the employment scenario. When people get a job, they usually get a background check. That's a very pervasive use case. But when we started KarmaCheck, we realized that this kind of data about people could actually be used for lots and lots of different scenarios. We saw that in future years, this kind of information will be expanded to more situations. The reason for that is that our interactions are becoming more virtual; we're meeting online more and more often. The contingent workforce is becoming more of a thing, with people moving around jobs a lot, so the need to interview people, to evaluate people increases. There's going to just be more uses of this data and that's why we got into it, not just to first start with background checks for helping people get a job, but also to enable this data to be used in many other kinds of situations as well.

Nora Ali: That makes sense. We're going to a very quick break. More with Eric when we come back.

Eric, you've talked about some of the use cases for KarmaCheck, but without getting too technical, I would love for you to explain how it works. How you're making the process more seamless, more quick for employers so they don't have to go through the traditional long background check process. What is the secret sauce of KarmaCheck, on a very basic level?

Eric Ly: Well, we had this idea that all this information, it's capitalizing on some of the ideas that just frankly people have had in recent years that this information really ought to belong to the people themselves. We had this idea that hopefully in future, people can have a digital wallet of the credentials that they have, their accomplishments, their work experience, very much like a LinkedIn profile, except it's been verified. There's a blue check mark that's next to it. They ought to be able to take it from one opportunity to the next. If they're applying for one job, they've had a background check run on them, they ought to be able to take those credentials in that wallet and apply it to another opportunity that they're going after, without having to go through the same rigmarole in terms of going through that background check. Nobody likes to do background checks; they find it annoying, I would say. If I can make an analogy, with people going through the airport, going through—

Nora Ali: That's what I was thinking about, yes.

Eric Ly: The security process. Nobody enjoys that. But years ago there came along a service called Clear, which enabled people to get through that check-in process much more quickly. In many ways, we're building the Clear for employees and individuals to get access to employment opportunities very conveniently.

Nora Ali: Yeah, it's about having that fingerprint and data portability, so if you've been checked once, doesn't mean you should have to do it over and over. So how did it work before KarmaCheck existed? Was every single employer doing their own background check, and who were they using to do that?

Eric Ly: Background checks was one of these spaces that wasn't really sexy to begin with, and sort of this nuisance that people had to do. We aim to make background checks sexy again. But what it was like before and what we're trying to change now is the fact that now every time that someone goes for a job, they have to run through the same process each and every time. If there is lots of credentials that you have to check, you have to go through that every time. For example, one of the industries that working in is the healthcare industry, where there's a lot of credentials that get checked for the professionals that go into those jobs, especially if they move around, such as traveling nurses, that tend to have assignments several months at a time. Imagine if we can create some kind of digital wallet where they carry their credentials and they're portable and they're reusable and they can take it from one opportunity to another. KarmaCheck can help facilitate that and make that more convenient, not only for the professionals themselves, but also for the employers, so they don't have to go through that process and have it take so long and cost so much to do it.

Nora Ali: While KarmaCheck is making background checks more easy, there are a lot of other ways to do your due diligence on people now, because everyone's on the internet, they have their social media profiles. I think anyone who has been looking for a job in recent history has been told, "Make sure your social media, it doesn't implicate you in any way and that you come across as a good person and not a criminal on your social media." But KarmaCheck's website points out that some states have specifically prohibited employers from using social media information as part of the criteria in the hiring process. Do you have any thoughts on the relationship of your social media profile—not LinkedIn, but your Instagram, your TikTok, your Twitter, and how employers may or may not use this today?

Eric Ly: I think depending on the position, some of that is fair game. If you're representing the company in an outward-facing role, maybe it matters more. But if you're internal to the company, maybe it shouldn't matter. I think it comes down to what employers really want that person to do. If their social media profile out there on the internet affects that, then that becomes a question. Otherwise, that's how I feel about it.

Nora Ali: As someone who's had fake accounts made using my images and my name, identity theft is something that I think about, and I know that's something you think about at KarmaCheck. You all pointed out that there has been an increase in identity theft. I'd love to understand how stolen identities are used in background checks from prospective employees.

Eric Ly: Well, it's becoming more and more of a problem with this increasingly virtual world that we're heading into, and the possibility for people working remotely and all that. It's very easy these days to find someone's identity, their social security number, their contact information, their photo, as you said, on the internet. Often a lot of this information is available on the dark web and one can just buy it and use it as themselves. We had one customer at KarmaCheck that actually had an instance where they had about 20 people who applied to positions as hourly workers, and they all identified themselves from the same area, and they also used the same identity for themselves. When the employer discovered this, they realized, well, this can't all be the same person. There's no way that 20 people could be the same person here. That's when they realized that there was some problem with it. We had some ways to help sort out and verify identities and we were able to help them with that. But that kind of situation is coming up more and more where people basically substitute another person's identity and pass it off as themselves. Maybe because they have some kind of issue in their background that they don't want to be exposed, and then pass off a more or less clean identity just to get through that background check. That kind of stuff is happening out there and that's what we try to help businesses to avoid.

Nora Ali: It's not just candidates and employees. Businesses are also, in some cases, leveraging fake profiles. There was an NPR investigation recently into computer-generated fake LinkedIn profiles. A lot of them were being used to drum up sales for a company. It's telemarketing for the digital age, as NPR called it. I would love to get your take on that as an AI tech expert. Is this legal, first and foremost, and what is the advantage for a business to create fake profiles to drum up sales, essentially?

Eric Ly: Well, 24/7 availability, you know, and they don't get tired. So I think those are—

Nora Ali: You don't have to pay them either.

Eric Ly: I heard something cool recently, which I thought I'd mention, which was in Korea, they have these computer-generated personalities that show up on social medias. They're completely fabricated by the companies that are marketing their products. But what's interesting is that they would have an elaborate life beyond just the products. You could follow their accounts on social media; they would participate in events. They would talk about interesting lifestyle things that they've been doing. Almost like a real person to the extent that some of the followers would even message those virtual personalities and ask if they're even real people. Honestly, I found it pretty cool because it really shows the limit, I suppose in a good way, in terms of what you can do with this kind of technology.

Nora Ali: Is that a good way? It's a little creepy that you can totally fabricate a human being. I mean, we've all seen deepfakes and the proliferation of deepfakes on the internet. But it's not just being able to create a human face out of nothing; it's the ability to create a story and a background. I think that's a little bit scary. What are your thoughts?

Eric Ly: Well, deepfakes are definitely scary, and they portend ominous directions for us as a society. There's a very fine line there, I'll agree with that. If it's perhaps known that a certain character is not real, but is for the purposes of marketing a certain company's products and people enjoy that, well, it's an interesting idea because I think that marketing is often about trying new things and trying to spark someone's imagination and getting their attention. If virtual personalities are the way to do it, I suppose if people know about that, that they're virtual, they're not real, but they enjoy it at the same time, there may not be anything wrong with that.

Nora Ali: That's the key, is knowing that it's fake and being able to discern that. I used to be a news anchor and I remember covering a story about an AI-generated news anchor that was reading the news in certain locations. We were all like, "Our jobs are going to be replaced," but then you actually watch it and you can tell it's AI-generated, not a real person, and your job is safe for now. We'll take another quick break. More with Eric when we return.

Eric, I want to get your take a little bit more on LinkedIn and how it's impacted the evolution of work and hiring practices. You were one of five cofounders in 2002; LinkedIn launched in 2003. From your perspective, how do you think the platform has impacted the job search and hiring process over the past 20 years? I have to say, I did most of my most recent hiring process on LinkedIn and it was very seamless, very easy. How has it impacted the landscape in your eyes?

Eric Ly: It's really been a fundamental change, looking back. For me, it was amazing to be able to participate in it. Looking back 20 years ago, when the internet was at its dawn, believe it or not, people were not on the internet for themselves. I mean, you could look up information, you could buy things off the internet, but the whole concept of people having their profile or their resume online, or even a social media account, was just getting started. LinkedIn changed all that from paper resumes to essentially now everything is online. It's been an amazing transformation and it was great to be a part of that journey.

Nora Ali: LinkedIn, while it started as a professional network, it still largely is, it's becoming a little bit more personal. People post about deaths, about cancer, about all these things that are happening in their personal lives. Eric, have you seen the crying CEO on LinkedIn?

Eric Ly: I did see that, yes.

Nora Ali: Yeah, this crying CEO went viral for...he had fired some folks at his job and he posted a crying selfie and talked about how he was very sad and he's not just a CEO who is all about money, blah, blah, blah. Trying to be very empathetic. People came after him, obviously. People were trolling him. They were saying he did it just for the clicks and the attention. There have been thinkpieces on it: The Guardian, Inc. Magazine, Washington Post. One article from Fast Company said, "In 2022, cringe on LinkedIn is the norm. Once known as the most professional of the social networks, the platform is now looking more like a backdoor Facebook where users are happy to drone on about everything from current affairs to radical politics to slights real, imagined, or made up."

This leads to more backlash and people coming after those cringe posters; it's a little bit Facebook-esque. Does this worry you at all, and does it maybe make it less effective as a professional platform if people are posting stuff like this, and when people are getting riled up because of these posts, in addition to that?

Eric Ly: When we first started LinkedIn, it was really meant for a platform to connect people and to help people find opportunities. For employers to connect with candidates for job opportunities. When it was starting out, I think it was pretty pure in terms of its purpose. As time has gone on, there's been more and more activity on LinkedIn, more of the social type, as you said. One of the interesting things about that is that in the workplace there are social interactions that go on. The question is, should it go on online professional platforms such as LinkedIn?

I think that LinkedIn has become a more interesting place because of the social interactions, just like in the face-to-face workplace. I think some degree of it is good. It helps grease those connections and create trust and also helps create community between people as well. But what we're discovering, I believe, and what we're learning, is figuring out where those boundaries are and how to use these mediums to express what is appropriate and what may not be. LinkedIn is becoming a more interesting place, probably at the expense of us learning what the lines are that should be crossed or not.

Nora Ali: Yeah. I mean, even though LinkedIn is becoming a little bit more social and like a social platform, it feels like there isn't a whole lot of competition in terms of professional networking with LinkedIn. It's in its own camp. What do you think is the next evolution technology-wise when it comes to the job search process, the hiring process? Can there, will there be another LinkedIn, or is it too late for someone else to unseat the incumbent professional networking site?

Eric Ly: The reason why we started KarmaCheck was that we saw that there were some limitations to LinkedIn. The platform did really have to be created for the next stages to happen. But one of the main problems that we're trying to solve at KarmaCheck is the idea that it's great that all this information is there, but how do you know that it's accurate? Especially if you're making some important decisions, such as hiring, using this information. KarmaCheck is really an attempt to build, in some ways, a better version of that through having the verified profiles or verified backgrounds that people might have on another platform for some other use cases beyond just having your resume on there. We're trying, and we'll see if we can create those kind of work effects once again, but hopefully this is a compelling reason for people to have, again, a wallet of credentials, because this gives them access to employment opportunities in the future.

Nora Ali: Well, what is the north star use case for KarmaCheck? Because wouldn't it be wonderful if we could verify everyone who has any social media profile on the internet? Presumably you'd get fewer trolls, you'd get less misinformation and disinformation if you can verify everyone. Is that a world that can exist? Is that something you're looking at, or is that attacking our freedoms as a society?

Eric Ly: Great question. I love the way that you asked it. There's some really deep ideas that we're trying to explore, starting with background checks. That's really, for us, just a starting point. But going back to what we discussed at the beginning, I was very interested in trust, in this whole idea of trust, several years ago when we started KarmaCheck. I believe that inequality does exist out there in the world. There's unequal access to economic opportunities out there, and trust is the foundation that relies...people interacting with one another. So if we can do a better job of that, especially when interactions are becoming more and more virtual, to some degree, we're going to make the world a more equitable and more accessible place. Especially for those who don't have access to all the opportunities.

I want to do it in a way that doesn't give up our privacy and our freedoms as well. There's discrimination in the job place, but if we can share just those aspects of our qualifications that really matter to a job and leave out all the other ones, things that don't matter, that should help the world become a more democratized place. Today, all that information is out there when we apply for a job. We show our ID and that shows our gender and our age and our hair color and things like that. Things that don't matter, in most cases, for a job. We should only be able to show our qualifications. That's the world that I hope we're going to be moving to.

Nora Ali: Eric, you're also an expert in the blockchain space. You're the founder of Hub, which is a blockchain protocol bringing greater trust to online interaction. Clearly, you're very passionate about trust and real information on the internet. You've pointed out before in a previous interview I was listening to that there are these dominant types of technologies at any given time and it becomes harder and harder to innovate. Right now maybe it is social media or social networking, as an example. And we see features being copied and social platforms are trying to become more and more like the ones that are working well. As you look into newish spaces like blockchain technology, for example, what are those white spaces, the most blank of white spaces to you right now in technology? I guess what hasn't been cracked yet that excites you the most?

Eric Ly: With blockchain, it suggests new possibilities. A way to maybe block down on the incidents of fake information, to create a more sensible and more trustworthy world that suggests those things. Technologists like myself would say, "Well, let's go and explore that and see how we can solve some of the problems that exist today and use this new technology and use these new tools to solve some of those problems." I do believe that this idea of trust and what we can do with it, especially when it comes to the professional realm, which is what I'm mostly familiar with, we can really make some major improvements. Elon Musk, he may want to go to Mars, but I'm interested in more earthly benefits for those humans who are living here on earth.

Nora Ali: Thank you, Eric. I appreciate that very much. Let's fix the earth before we go to Mars, please. Awesome. Well, Eric, before we let you go, we do have a special segment; it's called Shoot Your Shot. I would love to know, Eric, what is your moonshot idea, your greatest ambition, your biggest dream? It could be personal, work related. It's your chance, Eric, to shoot your shot, so go ahead.

Eric Ly: It really is something that I alluded to before, which is a world that...we're living in a technological world, and there's a lot of issues in how we are dealing and interacting with each other on a digital realm. If we can make the world ultimately a friendlier place, but at scale, I think that I will have contributed something to [inaudible] technology.

Nora Ali: I think you need to update your Twitter bio or your LinkedIn profile to say, "Making the world more friendly at scale." I think that's a great goal to have in life. All right, Eric. Well, thank you so much. I learned so much in this conversation. It was a real pleasure, and thank you for joining us on Business Casual.

Eric Ly: Thank you, Nora.

Nora Ali: This is Business Casual and I'm Nora Ali. You can follow me on Twitter @NoraKAli and I would love to hear from you. If you have ideas for episodes, comments and thoughts on episodes you loved, fun segment ideas, shoot me a DM and I will do my best to respond. You can also reach the BC team by emailing businesscasual@morningbrew.com, or call us. That number is (862) 295-1135. If you haven't already, be sure to subscribe to Business Casual on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen. And if you like the show, please leave us a rating and a review. It really, really helps us.

Business Casual is produced by Katherine Milsop and Olivia Meade. Additional production sound design and mixing by Daniel Markus. Kate Brandt is our fact checker. Sarah Singer is our VP of multimedia. Music in this episode from Daniel Markus and The Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. Thanks for listening to Business Casual. I'm Nora Ali. Keep it business, and keep it casual.