Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Gemma says he's more 'linked' than Obama

Democrat Anthony Gemma announces his candidacy for Congress in a June 15 news conference.
Democrat Anthony Gemma announces his candidacy for Congress in a June 15 news conference.

 

In a state as tiny as Rhode Island, connections are like currency. What you get depends on whom you know, or so the common wisdom goes.

So when a political unknown in the smallest state made a bold claim recently about just how connected he was, it demanded a little digging.

In announcing his candidacy for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, Anthony Gemma claimed to have more "connections” on the social networking site LinkedIn.com than the president of the United States.

"If you do the research you will find that I am the 40th most linked person in the entire world right now. I am two people above Barack Obama," Gemma told supporters at his campaign announcement in the Providence Place mall.

More connected than Barack Obama? That"s quite a claim for a former plumbing company owner from a state with barely a million people.

A statement like this cried out for a Truth-O-Meter test, so we here at PolitiFact Rhode Island got to work. But as it turns out, the most reliable source -- LinkedIn.com itself -- doesn"t share its data. So we decided to present our findings without a ruling.

LinkedIn is like Facebook, but for career networking. It is a self-described "professional network of trusted contacts.” Those in your network can view your resume, your work history and other career details, and connect with you if they"re interested in learning more. The site claims to have more than 70 million members in 200 countries. Think of it like professional networking on steroids.

Now back to Gemma. He told Journal political columnist Ed Fitzpatrick that he got the information from a website called www.toplinked.com; his campaign says his impressive ranking shows the candidate"s familiarity with social media and his willingness to get constituents involved in the political process using these tools. In 2008, he also founded Mediapeel, a marketing company.

A quick look at that site proves he"s quoted it accurately: Listed at number 40 on the roster of most-connected users is Anthony Gemma, two ahead of Barack Obama. The site says Gemma has more than 24,000 connections, Obama more than 23,000. It doesn"t give precise tallies.
To put that in perspective, 24,000 people is well more than the number of residents in Gemma"s hometown of Lincoln, R.I.

(In the two weeks since Gemma made his claim, the rankings have changed somewhat. Gemma is now listed as 43rd, five ahead of Obama. Number one on the toplinked list,  in case you"re wondering, is someone named Ron Bates, an executive search expert from San Francisco, who apparently has more than 43,000 connections.)

When we contacted LinkedIn to verify the authenticity of the list, Kay Luo, the site"s senior director of corporate communications, said in an email: "We don't encourage ‘super connecting" so we don't keep a list.  Our philosophy is that you should connect to people you know and trust.”

OK, but could she verify whether TopLinked.com at least uses authentic information? "Those are not necessarily accurate, so I wouldn't rely on it as a source.  I don't know of a legitimate listing,” Luo said.

We decided to track down TopLinked ourselves, but that proved challenging. Attempts to identify who is behind the site came up short. We emailed the folks at TopLinked and got a one sentence email in return confirming that Gemma was 40th. Follow-up questions about how they obtain that information were never answered.  

Toplinked allows members to pay for premium service, but it is unclear if that boosts your standing. Gemma"s team says it never paid any money to the site.

So there you find us, with no real way to prove -- or disprove -- the candidate"s statement.

The Gemma team still maintains their candidate"s super connectivity will help distinguish him in the race and as an elected official.  "In 1776, Paul Revere used lanterns and in 1936, FDR used the radio,” said campaign spokesman Chad Radock, "and in 2010, we are using social media and the Internet in the mission to redefine and reinvigorate public service.”

Wonder how many LinkedIn connections Paul Revere would have had back in the day?

For the record, Revere"s ride was in 1775.