‘Block and move on’ isn’t the right response to LinkedIn harassment

Creepy messages on a site intended to build professional relationships need to be called out, not swept under the rug, writes Mumbrella's Josie Tutty.

When I began thinking about the issue of harassment through LinkedIn, I brought it up in Mumbrella’s daily news meeting. Most of the people around the table looked a little bemused and told me they’d never received any non-work related messages through the site.

I figured no one would be dumb enough to send a journalist dick pics.

A quick search around the internet told me this lack of awareness wasn’t simply confined to Mumbrella House. I came upon a LinkedIn post by US agency founder Josh Steimle, whose “mind was blown” by the very idea.

And yet, his post has since received thousands of comments from women who had experienced unwanted advances via LinkedIn.

It’s quite clearly a real problem.

But, much like workplace harassment itself, it turns out most choose to brush it off, block the perpetrators and try to move on. It’s an understandable response.

The stories I have since collected range from seemingly harmless to horrific. A Sydney agency founder, for example, tells me of a time she was proposed to through the site, from a man who was “looking for a nice Australian wife”.

An ex colleague was told by a worker who claimed to work on a remote oil rig that she was pretty and wanted to chat.

One woman, who works for a marketing firm in Sydney, had a male colleague add her on LinkedIn and other messaging sites, telling her that he wouldn’t add her on Facebook because “everyone at work would know why”.

Many people in the office “knew what he was like” but laughed the behaviour off as harmless.

The conversation eventually moved off LinkedIn and onto other messaging apps, where she received more than one unsolicited intimate photo from the man, taken at what she is “pretty sure was his work bathroom while I was at my desk”. The man also attempted to pull other women into the conversation in an attempt to organise a threesome.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Back in 2015, barrister Charlotte Proudman took to Twitter to share a conversation she’d had with fellow legal professional Alexander Carter-Silk, who told her: “I appreciate that this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but that is a stunning picture.”

She received a mixed response, with some applauding her for taking action, while Piers Morgan decided she needed a sense of humour.

Karolyn Hart, one of the women who was featured in a Daily Mail article after she decided to add “Mrs” to her LinkedIn name to ward off unwanted advances from men, wrote about the problem of sexual advances through the platform in a post on the site.

“For many years, LinkedIn provided a Camelot experience for professionals,” she wrote. “It was a place that was free of evil corporate dragons such as sexual harassment, inappropriate advances, demeaning comments in front of peers, and the like.”

“Now, suddenly the real world is pouring into our Camelot and it’s shocking.”

CEO Andrea Myles’ solution to the problem is simply to publicly post a screenshot of any inappropriate messages she might receive. She says she doesn’t have a problem with calling the men who send her unwanted messages out, since ‘keeping harassment in the dark is what gives it power.’

One of Myles’ screenshots reveals a man who appeared fully aware of the inappropriateness of the situation, writes: “I don’t want to be creepy, but somehow I just had to write this message.”

When women do choose to speak out, they are almost always given the same piece of advice: simply block and move on.

In fact, this is the advice LinkedIn itself provides on the help section of its website.

“If another member is repeatedly contacting you on our website”, says Linkedin’s Harassment or Safety Concern section, users should “block the member from viewing your profile or contacting you.”

If you don’t want to block your profile, it suggests a multitude of steps to make your profile more and more invisible, including hiding the public version of your profile that’s visible to people who aren’t signed in to LinkedIn, hiding your profile photo and changing your profile display name.

Hardly the perfect solution for someone like Myles, who uses LinkedIn as a marketing platform to attract new business.

When approached for comment, LinkedIn told me: “Our User Agreement states clearly that our members should act in a professional manner, and we encourage members to report any behaviour they consider to be inappropriate. Our members value using LinkedIn because they want to build their career and be better at what they do.

“The online world has no shortage of places for people looking for dates; it’s neither common, nor effective, to do that on LinkedIn. And if someone insists on trying, we have tools in place to block those people ​– and where necessary, remove them from the site altogether.”

Here’s hoping the #metoo movement manages to find its way to LinkedIn soon.


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