The LGBT Professionals group on LinkedIN went down for eleven days. After nearly five years of operation, the group went down for the first time, seemingly for no reason. The group’s creator, Dennis Velco, also had his account disabled. By 8:30 the morning after it happened, people were calling upon Dennis to see where the group was, and why he was not answering their messages. Several of us group members emailed LinkedIN customer support as well, to no avail. Now, one has to keep in mind that this is the largest LGBT professionals group on LinkedIN, with more than 18,000 members. We rely on this group for advice and resources when it comes to navigating the legal inequalities that come with being LGBT in the professional marketplace. The demolition of this group and Dennis’s profile were a grave concern for the members of this group.
Dennis diligently pursued the reasoning behind the dismantling of his group, as did many members. However, this was to no avail. Even more troubling than the lack of responses to some members was the fact that the boilerplate responses gotten by the group members who did get responses. They all fell into the vein of the following: removal from the group, starting one’s own group in a similar vein, or waiting. When anyone asked why the group was suspended, they were told that the group’s owner needed to contact them, when he already had – on more than five occasions. However, do not take my word for it. Luckily, Dennis Velco was vigilant enough in his quest to get to the bottom of the suspension of his group and his LinkedIN account to take detailed notes of every happening regarding this situation. Here is the full transcript, courtesy of Dennis himself, for your reading pleasure.
For the past 4 1/2 years I’ve dedicated up to 20 hours a week fully voluntarily to found, moderate, administer, comment thoughtfully, create a safe and welcoming space for LGBT and community allies who are first and foremost professionals. Nearly daily inclusive of my weekends and vacation days with family, I keep the group running and active. Nearly every day I curate a few news pieces from around the globe and from many sources to spur dialog, thought and awareness of important issues facing LGBT people all over the globe.
The first two year of starting the group I actually paid $50 a month out of my own pocket for a LinkedIn Business level membership that gave me the ability to search profiles for key terms. When I found profile with the terms, like LGBT, GLBT, Gay, Lesbian, etc… I sent each person a personalized invitation to the group. It was a very labor and time intensive process. Just 3 weeks before our adopted son was due to be born I was laid off from my technology focused job. We decided I’d be the stay at home parent. I’ve focused on raising our son, soon to be 4 years old, this LGBT Group and my art.
The group is just about 18,000 members globally and represents on my estimate around 80% of the world’s countries. It has nearly every walk of life from folks looking for work, current college students, entry level jobs all the way to business owners, CEOs spanning commercial and non-profit sectors. In addition the group has staff of local, state and federal government officials all the way to Director level staff of the White House. The group is very open and inclusive of community allies in where we have parents of LGBT, clergy, HR and Diversity Recruiters.
The group is very active with practically no Spam due to my daily commitment of a high moderation level. Some members have become very good friends of mine and we can chat on the phone for literally hours at a time in flowing dialog as if we were sitting in the same room over coffee or cocktails. Some members are silent observers and some of those are such for good reason as they live in countries that if their government officials knew they were members they could be placed in prison or worse. (LinkedIn does provide the ability to hide a Group Logo on your profile).
And here is the beginning of the nightmare of the group and Dennis’s personal account being suspended, again, seemingly for no good reason:
By the time I got up and to my computer at 8:30 am Jan 25, my own personal LinkedIn account was SUSPENDED. OK I thought, I’ll log in as my partner Mark and I found that my… the LARGEST LGBT GROUP on LinkedIn was also SUSPENDED… AND ALL 20 Sub-Groups. Panic… I know people count on and log into these groups every single day. By 8:45 I seen I have already received messages via Facebook and into my personal email accounts from Group members wondering what is going on. By 8:50 am EST I sent LinkedIn Customer Support a Help Ticket via the LinkedIn web interface and I received an email confirmation with the ticket number. I take our son to pre-school at 9:05 and home by 9:30. By 9:50 I have voice mails from members who are actually concerned for my well being and the group… they wonder “Are you OK? This is VERY ODD… I cannot access the LGBT Group and now I cannot access you on LinkedIn… please call me or email me.. I want to know you are OK.” I had around several messages / phone calls like this by 1pm that day. I tried to ease their minds, I explained what and how I invited others to connect with me and someone must have marked my invitation as a SPAM… or a I Do Not Know.” Anyone who is in my group… KNOWS ME… I post most days 3 – 5 new discussions, news or polls… and I comment thoughtfully on other member discussions… I provide tips for those looking for jobs or how to connect with other members regionally… all on a regular basis.
OK.. fine… someone or two flagged me as what ever. The system automatically took action… THIS TIME [read my Related Background below]
I waited for a response and the beginning of a dialog to solve what ever issue there is and MOVE ON. I heard nothing from LinkedIn. But what surprised me was the members of the Group were contacting LinkedIn Customer Support asking about the group status and such… and as I found out by them starting to forward me their correspondence… LinkedIn Customer Support were responding to them in literally HOURS of their initial contact. So. by Jan 30th, I took one of those messages from a member named Eric who contacted LI CS just that morning at 8:30 am EST and by 2:30 EST he had a response [more on the response in a moment]. So I took that thread of emails between Eric and LI CS and I forwarded it to LI CS external address at CustomerSupport@LinkedIn.com around 3:30 EST. In it I stated that I appreciated LI CS’s timely response to my group members and look forward to hearing from LI CS myself… now that it’s been 5 days and I’ve not heard a word. I elaborated on my assumption of the issue based on my actions and within 12 hours their automatic Suspension and pleaded to converse with someone to understand and resolve any real or perceived issue they might have.
I received at 11:56 pm that same day / night (I saw it the next morning) a reply to that message that due to the nature and sensitivity of the issue it has been forwarded on to the Trust and Security Department. The CS representative apologized for the delay claiming they’ve been over loaded. (Really all my members who contacted them got responses within hours.)
That was Jan 30th and to date I’ve not heard a single word from LinkedIn.
Yes, the group is now back, and many people may be of the mind that we should leave well enough alone. However, I personally cannot. This is bothersome, because one has to wonder just why this went on so long if it was a simple case of misunderstanding or mistaken flagging or what have you. After all, anyone who uses LinkedIN knows that when an account or group goes down, it is usually up within hours. Here, however, it took eleven days, and, further, there were suggestions that people abandon the group. There is safety in numbers, everyone knows that. Could, perhaps, LinkedIN be trying to find a reason to get rid of the largest LGBT professional group on the largest professional social networking site on the internet? Why were we given the runaround, when this is hardly standard protocol?
Also, related, Dennis Velco has been diligent in attempting to keep LinkedIN office safe, which, in some instances, it is not. There are numerous groups related to escorting and sexual activity, as well as profiles with explicit images that Dennis himself has flagged, but are still active. Once again, from Dennis himself:
LinkedIn is not 100% safe for the office environment. I am likely LinkedIn’s top member for Flagging Pornographic profile images on the site. Some are LGBT but the vast majority not. I don’t go looking for it until it comes to me as a profile requesting membership in my group. When that happens, I do what I call “Spider Down” to find profiles with any connection to that original profile and I use the LinkedIn provided tool to Flag a profile as Inappropriate – Profile Image. I have also created a few text documents with over 100 links to such profiles and also included profiles with derogatory terms such as “Faggot” and “Niger”. There has been 6 – 10 weeks go by and I find the exact same profiles with the phonographic profile images still visible. I have sent complaint via the LinkedIn Customer Service desk twice and their Feedback Link at the bottom of every page. I’ve made the recommendation that they implement readily available facial recognition software to help eliminate this as well as automatically hiding profile images once they are flagged to await what ever human process needs to happen. For the derogatory terms I’ve recommended they either scan during create and updates or just a periodic scan of their system and auto flag profiles which have terms that match a Master Banned Key Word list…. frankly that any 14 year old boy could populate. Having seen no action on LinkedIn’s part, around 3 weeks ago I brought this up in a special group titled “LinkedIn Groups Product Forum” where one LinkedIn staff person is the main commenting voice name Ian… and it has over 300 other LinkedIn staffers who just observe. I figured making this “public” in that group would at least have a wide set of LinkedIn staff’s eyes. I stated, “Either LinkedIn actually doesn’t care about their own User Agreement, or the department that is to address the Flagged Profiles is sorely understaffed. But in any case LinkedIn has failed to so far address the issue via human resources or electronic automation. Since I’m dong the job… how about pay me.”
The bottom line is this: a clean, professional group that just happened to be for LGBT professionals was suspended, along with the group owner’s account, without warning, and its members were given the runaround as to why. Further, this is not standard protocol for handling these situations, and, in the midst of all of this, there are pornographic groups and profiles galore that are allowed to stand. Something stinks to high heaven here, and I’d like to know what. It feels like homophobia, and if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, in my experience, it is usually a duck.