When the idea of LinkedIn was initially conceptualised in 2002, how could the founders foresee their platform for business professionals turning into a site that could bait a mate?
LinkedIn has 675 million members spread across 200 countries. Professionals are signing up to join LinkedIn at a rate of more than two new members per second. Jobs, services and businesses make use of this platform to connect. But that’s not why everyone is on LinkedIn – the lines have become a little blurry and boundaries have been pushed.
“Just a friendly reminder that if LinkedIn is going to be a safe space for people to connect for business, that it is NOT appropriate to connect and then send a message seeking a non-business related friendship.” Bev Hancock, strategic facilitator at Kamva Leadership Institute, recently posted on the business platform.
LinkedIn encourages people to connect with strangers. Your best strategy of using LinkedIn is to actually accept every single request because linking with people opens up more business opportunities. But for many of us on LinkedIn a Direct Message (DM) like this is a not a rare occurrence…
“I must confess your perfect smile swept me off my feet. I am interested in communicating more and sharing more about me with you and hope to learn more about you too that is if you are single and interested in communicating further. This is all new for me, it is the first time i would ever go against protocol of doing business only on the Linked-in website. I do believe everything is possible if we put our mind and heart together just like i believe that good things can be found in the least places and when we least expect .I do not just give out my personal details like email or phone numbers to people on linked-in or off it, but i am willing to make a compromise to communicate with you so here am i emailing you on the site because i really wanted to touch base with you.”
“Those barriers to entry, to getting into someone’s connections are much lower than the other platforms,” says Bronwyn Williams, trend analyst with Flux Trends. “You’re much more likely to accept a stranger’s request on LinkedIn because everyone’s connected to everyone.”
This then makes LinkedIn rife with spam, maybe more so, than other social network platforms and it is therefore more open to abuse. “It would make sense from a sociological perspective,” says Williams, “that older people are looking for someone on those sort of platforms because perhaps they wouldn’t have been introduced to apps like Tinder or Grindr, which are designed and marketed to a younger person. LinkedIn was originally marketed to executives, so it’s attracted the Microsoft crowd, and not the Apple crowd.
“You want to make sure that you are pursuing someone with a similar socio-economic background, or that has the same sort of degree of success. “Of course, LinkedIn is then perfect for peeking into someone else’s wallet. We’re going back to a situation of chatting around the water cooler/meeting people in the workplace, but virtually.
“Workplace sexual harassment is the biggest story across the world and LinkedIn is the virtual extension of the physical world, and people behave worse online than they do in person,” says Williams. “So it makes absolute sense that people will breach the norms of what most of us would consider to be etiquette when meeting new people on social platforms.
“The online lens intensifies our behaviour because we’re still hiding a little bit behind our screens, even though it’s a real face on that platform. So of course, the sort of men that would be hitting on you in your LinkedIn inbox, are also the sort of men that would be hitting on me at the office Christmas party.”
If sending a “cheeky” message does play out in your favour, there’s only really an upside for your actions, if you’re on the other side of the screen. “Obviously,” adds Williams. There’s downsides for the recipient who is not looking for that kind of attention.”
Block and report
“The very credibility of the platform lies in whether or not we have the freedom to be able to interact and share details and build relationships,” says Hancock.
“Our members place their trust in us,” says Lucy Jenkins, a LinkedIn spokesperson. “We work every day to protect them and make sure that LinkedIn remains a safe, trusted and professional community. Abusive behaviour is not tolerated. It’s absolutely not acceptable for a member to harass others on LinkedIn. This includes behaviour like romantic or sexual advances, bullying, trolling, unwanted repeated contact, or other similarly inappropriate messages.
“We take a harassment report very seriously and our team reviews each case individually,” adds Jenkins. “We investigate all reported material with our User Agreement and Professional Community Policies in mind. If it violates our policies, we take action, which can include removing the content or suspending the account.”
But is that enough?
“The biggest element for me is the psychological safety,” says Hancock. “Particularly in the business world, you want to know that if you’re engaging with somebody, that you are not in danger. And I think it’s highly, highly, highly underrated.
“We need to have both a proactive and reactive approach to this. A reactive approach is when you block and you report. The proactive would see LinkedIn doing something a lot more in terms of stopping the behaviour, in terms of education, and creating an environment with some consequence management. If your account doesn’t get suspended, why shouldn’t you do it again?