Under a section of LinkedIn’s (NYSE:LNKD) user agreement entitled “Don’t undertake the following,” the professional networking slipped in a new regulation on Monday that showed that the site has been an unknowing host to the world’s oldest profession. However, the service now forbids users from creating profiles or providing content that promotes escort services or prostitution, “even if it is legal where you are located.”
While this may appear to be a surprising change to some, it is not for LinkedIn. Prostitution — whether legal or illegal — has never been permitted on LinkedIn, the company’s director of corporate communications Hani Durzy told NBC News. He said the salacious attention brought by the network’s terms revision was “a baffling non-story.”
Durzy stressed that nothing regarding the company’s guiding philosophy had changed. “We took the opportunity to make it clear that local laws are not relevant to what we will or won’t allow,” he explained.
A search conducted just a few days ago, using obvious keywords like “sensual massage,” returned dozens of listings for escort services in the United States. Even less-veiled search terms would pull up listings for “courtesans” and “working girls” who advertised on their profiles their employment at legal brothels operating in the U.S.
But already, LinkedIn has made it more difficult to find these self-proclaimed prostitutes, and it has even removed many of their profiles from the professional networking site altogether. A search for “courtesans” now returns just two results: “Worldwide Courtesans” and “VIP Courtesans,” both of which are groups containing just one member, clearly not a primary concern for the campaign.
LinkenIn has declined to explain how it identifies and responds to users who violate its new terms of service. Nor has the company’s management said whether the update would be followed by an active purge. “We have 225 million members, and we get billions of page views every quarter. There’s lots of activity happening on the site. Like most social networks and platforms, we rely on our community bringing things to our attention,” Durzy told NBC.
A purge is not out of the realm of possibility. “I’m not saying we’re going to do a purge, though we very well may,” he said. “In a nutshell, as we become aware of profiles that violate our policies we will take the appropriate actions. Does that mean shutting them down on day one? Or giving our members the benefit of the doubt, and telling them that’s a violation and you’ve got change it? There is no hard and fast rule. We take the appropriate action as necessary.”
From the difference in results of searches made before and after the update was made, it is clear that profiles have been removed. When questioned about profiles that had been taken down, Durzy would not provide any specifics. “That’s policy in action,” he said.
Those affected by the policy change have already expressed their disapproval. Dennis Hof — who owns several legal Nevada brothels, including the infamous Moonlite Bunny Ranch, and has been a LinkedIn member since 2012, asked “What’s the problem?” when questioned by NBC. “We have a license to do this,” said Hof, whose employees also have LinkedIn accounts. “Our business is as legal as theirs. We’re the good guys. We have no reason to be knocked off.”
He said his business relies on social media for publicity since advertising prostitution in Nevada is illegal, even though the actual act is not. “LinkedIn needs to realize they don’t need to filter out legal businesses in America,” he added. “If it’s OK to do that, is it OK to drop Dairy Queen too because it serves too much fat and calories? Is LinkedIn going to be the moral arbiter, and drop Coca-Cola or anybody who works for a cigarette company?”
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