Is LinkedIn The New Dating Hot Spot, Or A Breeding Ground For Harassment?
As a publicist, networking is Jessica Hatcher’s bread and butter. “Unless I absolutely know that someone is spam, I typically accept all requests to connect via LinkedIn,” she says. After all, she never quite knows where her next lead is going to come from.
But she couldn’t help but notice when the levels of “connection,” male LinkedIn members were seeking got a little too, well, physical. As an attractive woman on the web, overly-personal messages and unsolicited invitations for coffee meetings are sometimes par for the course, but when Hatcher, who works for L.A.-based Konnect PR, received a sexually explicit message over the social network, she had had enough. She removed him from her connections, blocked his messages and contacted LinkedIn with the offense—but it didn’t quite do the trick.
“The man was kicked off LinkedIn but he must have gotten my email address while we were still connected,” she says, because shortly after she started receiving emails on her personal account calling her a bitch for blocking him, criticizing her “slutty” profile photo (Trust me–it’s not; Hatcher says the photo was taken at a business conference and regularly uses it at speaking gigs) and insulting her resume. Professionally it was annoying. Personally it was insulting.
But what matters more is that this kind of behavior on LinkedIn—in which young female professionals are targeted by men trolling for dates, casual encounters or just sending solicitous messages—is becoming something close to the new normal.
At least that’s been Ashley Olson’s experience. An interactive media strategist based in Scottsdale, Arizona, Olson says that between her and her twin sister she’s seen more than 250 inappropriate messages in the past 12 months. While she, like Hatcher, has made it a point to laugh them off as funny—she even started a tumblr blog to chronicle the most absurd, SocialCreeps.com–she does concede that for others, this kind of contact could be off-putting, even menacing.
No matter how you look at it, it’s inappropriate.
LinkedIn isn’t the only social network where women are inundated with date requests. Take Facebook. When I (and hundreds of other female journalists) enabled Facebook Subscribe late last year, the number and type of messages took a turn for the weird. For every one legitimate comment I received from the over 250,000 subscribers I quickly amassed I got dozens of marriage proposals, sexually explicit messages and even links to pornographic images. But I’m a public person (which doesn’t necessarily make it better but at least more understandable) and Facebook is a network strictly for socializing. LinkedIn, on the other hand, is touted as a place to build business connections, professional networks and, most often, a platform to cultivate your forward-facing personal brand.
When asked for comment LinkedIn leaned heavily on its reporting system, and a spokeswoman stressed that they only recommend people accept connection requests from people that they know. “We’ve always been aware of the potential of members in our 200M member community to be contacted by people who may send inappropriate correspondence,” says Catherine Fisher. There are safeguards in place, among them the ability to report messages as spam or control message from LinkedIn members who aren’t connections, she says, and members are encouraged to report issues to the Help Center, something both Hatcher and Olson say they’ve done.
“Our customer service team works with members to resolve issues as soon as we receive them,” Fisher continued via email. “When we confirm something as inappropriate we’ll take appropriate action, including potentially removing the offending member from the site. “
According to Hatcher though, not every case is handled with the same sensitivity. When she flagged and reported the man who’d sent her numerous sexual and flirtatious messages, rather than hearing from a customer service rep to resolve the issue, she heard nothing at all.