LinkedIn: Secret experiment on 20 million users

An experiment ran on LinkedIn for five years, as a result of which those affected sometimes had poorer chances of finding a job on the social network.

(Image: Roman Pyshchyk/

LinkedIn has been criticized in the US because the world’s largest social network for business contacts has carried out experiments on over 20 million users over the years, which are likely to have had a noticeable impact on their professional lives. As the New York Times reports, those affected were not informed about the experiments. The question was whether close or less close contacts are more helpful in finding a new job. The procedure chosen means that some of those affected have clear advantages when looking for a job, an expert explains to the US newspaper. Something like this has to be kept in mind with such experiments.

According to those responsible, the experiment ran between 2015 and 2019, it was about the algorithm that suggests people “that you may know”. In the first phase, two groups of people were suggested with whom there were few or many overlaps – i.e. contacts – on the platform. It was then determined in which of the two groups more job offers were made and accepted.

The result was that people with whom you share comparatively few (10) contacts – on LinkedIn – are significantly more helpful when looking for a job than close acquaintances with more than 20 common contacts. The users in the group, to whom comparatively fewer close people were suggested as new contacts, would have gotten more than twice as many jobs in their company than the users in the other group through their new (closer) contacts.

In total, the more than 20 million people affected made over two billion new connections, wrote 70 million applications, and started 600,000 new jobs during the experiments. According to the research team, this proved how valuable so-called weak links are when it comes to letting information flow through social networks. The researcher Catherine Flick from the English University De Montfort contradicts this in the New York Times: The study only shows that “if you want to have more jobs, you have to spend more time on LinkedIn.”


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