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Don’t Flirt With Me: LinkedIn and Romantic Advances

Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash 

Professionalism, etiquette, the corporate manner. These are the things that we associate with LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional networking platform. People from around the world use the site to promote their personal brand, their business and their careers, so it is natural that they are generally on their best behaviour. LinkedIn began in 2002, in the living room of cofounder Reid Hoffman. It officially launched in 2003, and it was acquired by Microsoft in 2016. According to Business Insider, LinkedIn is the most trusted social media platform, with trust being defined by the app’s ability to protect the information of users and provide a safe environment. However, it is not without its problems. LinkedIn turned eighteen years old in 2021, and it is still trying to shrug off the juvenile issues which permeate the site.

One issue is that of individuals using the site to send romantic advances to people they are attracted to. In 2017, writer Gigi Engle wrote that on LinkedIn “I receive more messages from guys hitting on me than I do from people looking for professional advice or opportunities. Sometimes it feels like I can no longer trust my LinkedIn inbox.” It must be noted that some men probably do suffer harassment on Linkedin, and we must also remember that not everyone reports abuse due to environmental and social pressure.


Source: New York Times



However, it does seem to be the case that women are often the ones on the receiving end of this behaviour. In the same year Gigi Engle issued her statement, the Pew Research Center claimed that 21% of American women aged 18 to 29 had been sexually harassed online, more than double the number of men in the same age group, with over half saying that they had been sent unwanted sexually explicit images. In 2021, they revealed that 33% of women under 35 said they had been sexually harassed online, and there has been an increase in this behaviour since 2017.

The issue came to public attention in 2015, when the 27-year-old human rights lawyer Charlotte Proudman received a message from the married, 57-year-old lawyer Alexander Carter-Silk saying that her LinkedIn picture was “stunning” and that “you definitely win the prize for the best LinkedIn picture I have ever seen.” Charlotte rebuked him and posted the interaction on Twitter. A debate about workplace etiquette ensued and hundreds of frustrated women came forward with similar stories.

 

Boss of top legal aid firm vows to never instruct LinkedIn message 'sexism'  barrister Charlotte Proudman again - Daily Record
Source: Daily Record

Some may wonder why men would choose to make these advances on LinkedIn, and there are a few reasons. Firstly, LinkedIn gives more information about a user than most dating apps. An individual can scroll through the work history of a potential love interest and choose to target those who have similar professional interests. It is also much easier for men to approach love interests and leave the conversation with their dignity (somewhat) intact if they get rejected because they can just claim that they were messaging for professional reasons. Dating expert Molly Fedick echoed this statement in an interview with Glamour Magazine saying that because of the excuse of professional networking, “LinkedIn has the lowest barrier to entry and is the least ‘risky’ social platform to connect with someone.” She also said, “I think people use LinkedIn to ‘test the waters’ - they view it as less aggressive than a Facebook or Instagram request.”


One also has to remember that the ratio of men to women on LinkedIn gives men far more opportunities to court women. Men outnumber women on Tinder 9 to 1 whereas men only make up 57% of LinkedIn users, giving them more opportunities to find potential targets.



woman in black long sleeve shirt using macbook
Photo by Magnet.me on Unsplash 



Ultimately, people are on LinkedIn for professional reasons, so being approached romantically implies that their professional capabilities are inferior, and are of less interest than their physical attributes.


Rebecca Broad (freelance writer, marketer and wildlife charity trustee) told me in an interview that, upon receiving such advances, she feels “used, reduced and disrespected.” She said that the sense of disrespect comes from the fact that men “bypassed my work, which is why I'm on here (LinkedIn).” Jessica Phillips of Vice News reported that there are concerns for self-employed women, as their businesses often require them to be especially open to connecting with other professionals, and so they are therefore more likely to be affected by such behaviour. 


Rebecca stated that as a freelancer “Referrals are the backbone of my income, so I encourage DMs as a way of building connections. Maybe my activity on LinkedIn, both posting and in messages, mean that people think advances will be more likely to be seen. The darker side of this issue is that sickeningly, somehow still, how I behave around men has an impact. My business has been threatened more than once by someone whose advances I firmly turned down.”

This quote emphasises the severity of this issue, and how an incident that may look like “harmless flirting” can have real, lasting consequences for women on the other side. As a response to the harassment levels on LinkedIn, women-only networks have been set up such as BAWE (British Association of Female Entrepreneurs), an industry-specific network that helps to support women in technology. However, this issue is one that extends outside the online world and into the physical workplace, where many workers have to deal with inappropriate advances and attitudes. And, perhaps there is a wider aspect.

As mentioned above, the research shows that incidents of online harassment have increased since 2017. From 2017 to 2021, America, the country often dubbed the “leader of the free world”, had a President, Donald Trump, who was caught on tape talking about his approach when it came to women saying  “grab ‘em by the p*ssy”, and who has also made various other sexist remarks. The current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, also made sexist comments during his journalistic career. Naturally, this is speculation, but perhaps the perceived attitudes of our leaders have contributed to the sense of entitlement that some men feel when it comes to approaching women. LinkedIn does seem to recognise that there is a problem, and the platform has made steps towards combating it.



https://www.telegraph.co.uk/content/dam/women/2016/06/03/trumptweet_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqWTE8URzJVEortt55St7h5H0SgpsEyBBKQGTSmQdos-M.jpg
Source: Business Insider


LinkedIn uses machine learning that is designed to detect inappropriate behaviour, as is specified on LinkedIn’s blog, but much of the onus falls on the user to report the individual, block them or even educate them as to why what they are doing is wrong. The latter is especially taxing. Eventually, women may grow tired of the hassle and look for other spaces to connect professionally. In 2017, “Bumble” launched “Bumble Bizz” – a new model of the app for professional networking, and one which allows women to make the first move. Another option could be Shapr, a dating app-type business network site where both parties need to swipe right, and be comfortable with having a business relationship before they can communicate.

In this #MeToo era, inappropriate behaviour against women, both online and offline is unacceptable. LinkedIn recognises this and understands that if they don't make their platform a safe space for female users, there are other platforms, slowly rising up, who are saying that they certainly will.



Luke Gyesi-Appiah
Recently graduated with a BA in English Literature from the University of Exeter, and about to study an MA in Journalism at the University of Sheffield. He is an aspiring journalist and novelist; in his free time, he enjoys playing chess, listening to music and taking long walks through nature.


Further reading on LinkedIn activity:

 



Don’t Flirt With Me: LinkedIn and Romantic Advances Reviewed by Luke Gyesi-Appiah on Monday, August 23, 2021 Rating: 5

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