After a woman shared a creepy DM she received from a man on LinkedIn, dozens of women came forward with their own stories of being objectified and harassed on the platform.
How do you use LinkedIn? Perhaps you refresh your profile regularly to make professional connections and update your contacts on your career highlights. Maybe you only log in when you’re actively job-hunting. It’s possible that you’ve never actually got round to making an account.
But whatever your relationship with the professional networking site, it’s probably fair to assume that you don’t use it to chat up men. Who would try to flirt with someone on a platform designed for people to communicate about their careers? That would be inappropriate, embarrassing and entirely unprofessional, right?
Well, of course. But unfortunately, many women still find their LinkedIn inboxes peppered with messages from men that range from creepily suggestive to offensively explicit.
The issue of men using LinkedIn to attempt to flirt with women first reared its head back in 2015, when a British barrister outed an older male lawyer who had messaged her about her “stunning” profile picture. Charlotte Proudman said she found Alexander Carter-Silk’s message “offensive”, noting that she was on LinkedIn “for business purposes, not to be approached about my physical appearance or to be objectified by sexist men”.
Now, women are once again sharing their stories of being propositioned on a site ostensibly designed for professional connections. The conversation was reignited by Hannah Ray, the press secretary for US Senator Lisa Murkowski, who shared a screenshot on Twitter of a message she recently received on LinkedIn.
According to Ray’s screenshot, a man contacted her on LinkedIn to ask if she would “be willing to relocate if the right opportunity came along”. She replied saying that while she wasn’t currently looking for a new role, she would be “open to relocation” if the right job arose at the right time.
That’s when things got creepy. “What about the right man?” the man asked. He then added the ultimate shudder-inducer: a winking emoticon.
“NO DM IS SACRED,” Ray wrote on Twitter, “NOT EVEN LINKEDIN.”
Ray’s tweet prompted dozens of other women to share their stories of being approached via LinkedIn. “Happened to me last Wednesday,” @skistiqomah wrote, attaching a screenshot of a LinkedIn message in which a man informed her that he was “captivated by [her] profile picture”.
Other examples came thick and fast. Women posted screenshots of LinkedIn messages in which men bombarded them with unsolicited compliments about their appearance, said they’d previously spotted them on dating apps and explicitly told them that they weren’t contacting them for professional reasons. There were examples of men asking women for details of their other social media accounts, suggesting that women enter “relationships” with them, and continuing to send inappropriate LinkedIn messages even when asked to stop.
Of course, it’s not just LinkedIn where women find their inboxes crowded with unwanted messages from lecherous ‘admirers’. Other social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have introduced message filtering systems in part to reduce the sheer volume of creepy, unsolicited communication that women have to contend with – and popular Instagram accounts like Bye Felipe have been documenting the abuse and harassment women receive on dating apps for years.
And while men can also be sexually harassed by women via social media, this happens at dramatically lower rates than the other way around. A 2017 study by the Pew Research Center found that some 21% of American women aged 18 to 29 had been sexually harassed online, more than double the amount of men in the same age group, with over half (53%) of young women saying someone had sent them explicit images they didn’t ask for. The same year, a study by Amnesty International found that one in five women in the UK said they had experienced abuse or harassment through social media, with young women aged between 18 and 24 particularly affected.
Sexual harassment is an issue that needs to be stamped out on all social media platforms. But there is something specifically exhausting about receiving sexual or romantic advances and explicit messages on LinkedIn, even if it never tips into full-blown harassment. It is, ostensibly, a place for women to promote their professional brands and make meaningful connections to boost their careers. Opening your LinkedIn inbox to find a lascivious message from a random man you’ve never met serves as a brutal reminder: you might be here to talk about your achievements, skills and qualifications, but to some men, you will only ever be interesting as a sexual object.
In a statement on Twitter, a spokesperson for LinkedIn said that it was “absolutely not acceptable to send inappropriate messages” on the platform, and pointed to a policy which explicitly bans account holders from using the platform to make “romantic advances” or send sexually explicit content. Women who do receive such messages should “report and block” the sender, they said.
Alternatively, you could post a screenshot of the message on Twitter and spark a global conversation about gender politics on social media, until more men get the message that this kind of behaviour is not OK. The choice is yours.
Images: Getty Images