Ever wonder if a LinkedIn profile is legitimate or not? Ever questioned whether a Twitter account retweeting you is a real person? Bots have always plagued social media, but as developers become more sophisticated, it’s easier than ever to create a real-looking social media account. I’ve certainly gotten invites and connection requests from people I didn’t know, but whose titles or employers piqued my interest.

We don’t want to waste our time trying to connect with machines; worse, we don’t want to accept a machine connection because of the inevitable flood of spammy content that will ensue. The hidden cost of connecting with a bot is the enormous time suck it imposes on you, filtering and cleaning out inboxes.

We have a useful detection method to help us: Google Image Search. Why? Spammers and bots tend to use stock photos or stolen images on multiple accounts. They’re lazy, and automated tools make it easy to set up thousands of fake accounts with the same profile picture.

Use a browser with Google Image Search enable, such as Chrome. Right click and search the profile image on Google Image Search:

social_media_faker_busted.jpg

If you see this in the search results, it’s probably a bot account:

hello_social_media_bot.jpg

Busted.

In contrast, let’s look at what a legitimate profile appears as:

spot a social media bot

Most people tend to use the same image on many different social networks, so a quick scan of the search results should reveal whether this LinkedIn profile is the real deal. In this case, it is:

Google_Search.jpg

Richard is the real deal. He’s got accounts on multiple networks with the same profile picture.

If you’re concerned about the legitimacy of a connection request or a follower, using Google Image Search is an easy way to tell. It’s not foolproof – after all, spammers and scammers can easily lift a profile picture from anywhere. But generally speaking, it is reliable, especially since scammers and spammers won’t go to the effort of making matching accounts on multiple networks.

This brings up an important point: from time to time, search your own profile image. Find out if someone else has hijacked your identity, and if they have, report them to LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or the social network’s abuse department. Protect your own image!


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