He’d read an article on my blog about the 1994 Rwandan genocide. He worked with nonprofits in Rwanda, so he offered himself as a resource to me for forthcoming stories — at least that’s what one of the men who’ve found me on LinkedIn first told me. I agreed to meet with him to discuss his work but, shortly thereafter, he texted me asking if I’d be wearing any underwear to our meeting.
It wasn’t long before I’d realized that he didn’t want to discuss the 20 percent who’d been murdered by civilians enticed by promises of food and appropriated land. He didn’t want to talk about the nearly one million people who were slain and the estimated quarter million women who were raped. And he didn’t want to chat about the many people who are still left widows, orphaned teens or single mothers, some of whom have carried the children of their rapists and many of whom have contracted HIV and AIDs. Nope. He just wanted to sleep with me.
So he found me on LinkedIn from one of my dating profiles, deceived me into believing that he wanted to work with me to report on a genocide of all topics, and then promptly sent me a photo of his penis.
Little bothers me more than entitlement — especially the entitlement of a privileged man invading a working woman’s professional space. And I’m not the only one to think so. Both women and men have expressed to me that one of the creepiest social networks out there these days is actually LinkedIn, and they, too, have the receipts.
The platform boasts over 450 million members, making it the world’s largest professional networking site. The key phrase there: professional networking. Messaging women on LinkedIn to pursue them in any way beyond as job candidates crosses implicit boundaries — albeit virtually.
“Not only have I been approached for dates by random guys on LinkedIn, I was also shocked to receive nude photos from a man I was interviewing for a job,” says Hyapatia Lee a television producer. “This bothered me very much. I blocked him and reported him. Furthermore, he knew I was in my late 50s, so I really thought my age and the fact that I was interviewing him would have precluded such vulgar activities.”
Lee says she has also been approached by four or five other men who have asked her if she was involved in a relationship and, when she refused to give such information, they went on to suggest that they would be interested in getting to know her better for the purpose of romance.
“I find such interactions to be very rude, bold and uncalled for — especially on a platform such as LinkedIn that bills itself as being for professional career networking,” she says. “It's bad enough that other social media sites seem to have turned into dating sites, but I thought LinkedIn was supposed to be more professional than that.”
The fact of the matter is: LinkedIn is not a dating site, but the underbelly of LinkedIn solicitations is becoming a certifiable, problematic trend. For one, it’s demeaning. Many women don’t want to be objectified by their LinkedIn photo and have their experiences rendered irrelevant on a platform that’s meant to promote the latter. Some women, myself included, might go so far as to say that unsolicited sexual attention on LinkedIn still constitutes as sexual harassment. Unlike a dating website or a dating app, people are not signed up for LinkedIn for dating purposes; thus, any dating or hook-up propositions via the platform may very well be deemed as unwanted sexual harassment.
“I've had two men I haven't met before connect with me on LinkedIn and shortly after send me a message complimenting me on my looks,” says Rally Stanoeva, head of marketing at Rewind. “Of course, it bothers me. LinkedIn isn't a dating site and their approach tells me that nothing about my professional experience is of interest to them. When I called out one of them on the inappropriate advance, he called me a b*tch… It makes me wonder if these people realize that LinkedIn is a very public platform. The way you act in private messages can easily hurt your professional reputation and even cost you your job.”
It really can. Small Business Trends has warned that using LinkedIn as a dating site may put your business at risk and, in fact, anyone who trolls on the platform could be courting a liability suit.
Of course, not all trolls sending LinkedIn messages are as explicitly sexual as the aforementioned examples, but their messages still aren’t warranted.
Janet Basilone, founder of Fine Diners Over 40, says that she’s also come across more than one man with a profile that had few to no connections at all. They’d message her simple lines like “How are you today?” and it’d still bother her because LinkedIn is not a forum intended for that kind of small talk.
And women aren’t the only ones expressing concern.
“Once I reached out to someone about a job opportunity at his company, and when I thanked him for getting back to me, he responded with, ‘You’re welcome, handsome,’” explains Kevin Lindon Ryan, marketing communications specialist at KLR | PR, adding that the man then asked him out to dinner. “It caught me off guard and made me feel hopeless about keeping him as a professional connection. It bothered me because LinkedIn is a professional arena, and that response was inappropriate. When I am on LinkedIn, I want to be taken seriously as a professional. I also desire to be treated with the same respect expected in a workplace.”
In an time when sexual harassment cases are going public left and right, perhaps we need to look beyond the traditional realms and into the one place that business in general seems to be headed: the internet. Workplace sexual harassment isn't confined to the walls of our offices anymore.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.