I started writing this article a couple of weeks ago, and then I watched
Hung Lee’s Brainfood live - THE DARK SIDE OF LINKEDIN
– and I had to rewrite it from scratch since I gained a “male perspective” that
I had never considered before and the guests were literally speaking my exact
thoughts. It made me feel really sad to see that my peers in the recruitment
industry had been sharing the same struggles as I did as a female recruiter
online; but I also felt really empowered to see them speak out loud (and
sometimes loudly) of these struggles, how they are never ok, and how the people
who identify as female who suffer from the dark side of LinkedIn or any other
online platform should not be the ones who have to do something about it.
Am I worried about posting this article online?
Heck yes! It’s probably the most controversial article I’ve ever written, and I am fully aware that I’m opening myself up to being a target for sharing my thoughts on the subject. However, as International Women’s Day loom on the calendar, I feel we need to open up and talk more about these types of behaviours and how people who identify as women are affected.
I also feel the content of this article might be triggering for some people, so by all means, don't feel like you have to read any further.
What it’s like to be on the receiving end
As someone who has been a recruiter for a decade (geez, I’m old), I’ve often found myself on the receiving end of disgruntled candidates calls or emails.
That is nothing new, we’ve all been there… right? We’ve got “tough skin”.
But, have we all been there the same way?
I went and checked my “folder of shame”, the place where I file away the best abuse I’ve received. I’ve never published people’s names online, probably for fear of repercussions, but when I receive something nasty, I find it comforting to compare it with the other crappy messages I have previously received. So, I looked into the compost heap and realised that there were 2 popular tropes: my appearance and my sex life. (You can start going ewww now.)
You’ve got your average “f*ck you”. To the point, not very creative, not that hard to not take personally, to be honest.
That escalades to those who think that having sex would make me better at my job and recognise their qualities as a candidate. I personally fail to see the connection between having sex and being a good recruiter, but that seems to be a popular opinion.
And then you get the harder to ignore cringe-worthy messages that focus on my appearance.
Anything from “fat cow” (don’t diss the cows, they have feelings too), to the plain “you’re ugly”.
Then come the creeps: “I would like to connect with a beautiful woman like you”, “you’re sexy in your picture”, etc.
*Run for the hills*
A couple years ago, I was getting quotes to replace the company’s laptops, and one of the suppliers emailed me: “It’s making my day to be dealing with a beautiful woman with a Greek name like yourself.” On my work email, with the quote attached.
I’m sure you’re thinking: who does that, ewww?!?!
Yes, who does that kind of shit? In what world is this appropriate, or remotely OK to say these things to people?
Back when I lived in France, street harassment was my daily life. Random people think it’s ok to tell you what they *really* think about what you wear, your hair or your body, and no-one blinked. I’m feeling lucky that in Dublin pre-pandemic, I’ve only suffered from street harassment once, which made travelling to Paris and being on the receiving end of a “you’re really not appealing” from a random man on the street all the more shocking.
Outing abusers or doxxing?
Until I watched that episode of Brainfood Live, it had never occurred to me to link publicly sharing the messages/posts, that were sent to me and made me uncomfortable in some way, to doxxing.
Hung and Adam were discussing a lawyer who’s had to retire prematurely after his Internet “misdeeds” were outed. Even as someone who feels very strongly about the victims, my conditioned brain immediately went “oh, but sure, I don’t want anyone to lose their jobs, doxxing is horrible”.
If you’re unfamiliar with it, Wikipedia defines doxing, or doxxing, as “the act of publicly revealing previously private personal information about an individual or organization, usually through the Internet. Methods employed to acquire such information include searching publicly available databases and social media websites, hacking, and social engineering.”
Wait a second! “Publicly revealing private information”
Random guy slides into my inbox with creepy unsolicited and undesirable content and that means I’ve automatically agreed to a non-disclosure agreement?
Does that not remind you of abusers that tell their victims “you can’t tell mommy about what we just did, this is our secret”?
One of the guests of Brainfood Live, Amy Miller, put it into terms that were a lot less creepy than what my brain had jumped onto:
“There should be no expectation of privacy between strangers”
This really resonated with me because it removed the idea that one or the other person was the victim and the potentially misplaced empathy that goes with it.
Of course, I don’t want that guy to lose their job, I don’t want to ruin their family-life either. But truth be told, I don’t particularly care. If a guy sends a woman who is not his girlfriend, a message that he didn’t want his girlfriend to know about, why did he send it in the first place? I’ve always operated under the premise that if you write something on the internet, you’d better be ready to see it on the side of a bus.
Why should the person who receives the undesirable content (insults, dickpics or cringe-fest messages) care about how the life of the person who sent it be impacted by sharing the content publicly?
I’m going to take a very black and white example: I once was propositioned by a guy from his 1st message on Bumble and politely declined to hook up with him. He promptly proceeded to send me a picture of his genitals beside a ruler, with the caption “are you sure?”. If I hadn’t been sure before, I sure was now. But obviously, I told all my friends, and happily showed them the picture in question when asked for it.
- Does that make me a doxxer?
- Was that picture private?
- Was the caption private?
- Am I a bully for sharing that?
As the recipient of the undesirable content, there’s no expectation of privacy between me and the sender, but from the moment I share that content online, I lose control over it and if people want to find more information about the undesirable content sender and doxx them. There’s nothing I can do about it, even if my intention was only to share the crap that had been sent to me, and then I become the bully for outing that person.
Has your brain melted yet?
I don’t want to be a bully. I don’t want people to get doxxed. I don’t want people to lose their jobs or their girlfriends because of stupid stuff they write online.
Does it mean that I just need to suffer in silence every time I get a “folder of shame”-worthy message?
When I received the cringey message from the laptop seller, I told the colleague who sat beside me, and immediately he asked “What was the tone of the email exchange before that?”. To me, he was asking me “Were you being flirty with the laptops guy?”.
Based on my personal experience, I would have been totally pro naming and shaming, because it has a much higher impact when people see it in print with their own eyes.
Are we making excuses and should we make allowances?
I found it really interesting when Hung and Adam discussed their reasoning for the undesirable contents that are being sent to women. Except for the very explicit content, it felt like they were saying that the undesirable content came from a mixture of blundering and social awkwardness in the part of the senders.
I found that quite problematic. It was a misguided attempt at a compliment, it was a joke, that person is on the spectrum…
Considering that the platform we were discussing was LinkedIn, a “professional” social network, I find it difficult to find a place for “jokes” and “compliments” between strangers. In the context of recruitment, we usually have our work email address linked to our LinkedIn account, which makes the cringe-factor of receiving these undesirable contents twice as high, in my opinion.
While we may be sharing one piece of undesirable content with you, we never are on the receiving end of just the one. Sure, this one may just be cringey, not outright insulting or sexual in nature, but what about the other 7 cringey ones we’ve received?
- What if the recipient of that message is going through a difficult break-up when they get a message telling them that having sex would make them a better recruiter?
- What if the recipient has an eating disorder when they get a message calling them a fat cow or a hippo?
- What if the recipient has just been through sexual assault when they get a message from a stranger calling them sexy?
Oh, but surely, they can’t know that!
DUH! Of course, they can’t know that. And yet, they sent unrequested content that can be very hurtful to the recipient. Should we automatically excuse them, though? Their message could be the straw that broke the camel’s back, but they “didn’t know”.
What about people who are genuinely socially awkward and people who are on the spectrum? Should we make allowance for them?
Part of me wants to say, of course, they’re already having a hard time navigating through a society that is not very accepting of those who are different. And yet, the part of me who received these undesirable contents screams at the top of her head: why the hell should I care about them, what about my mental health and how these messages/comments make ME feel!
I’m honestly very very conflicted on that particular topic: they can’t know, I can’t know, so we all hurt each other without meaning to?
Is it viable to block him?
That’s the comment that prompted me to write the 1st version of this article. I shared on Facebook a screenshot of the latest comment that my LinkedIn stalker left on one of my blog posts. I hid his name and his picture before sharing.
Immediately, I received a kind “Is it viable to block him?”, which elicited in me: Why do I have to block him, why can’t people not be stalky and creepy????
When I hear “just block him” or “why don’t you block him”, what my brain hears is: What did you do to elicit that behaviour? What did you say to him? What were you wearing? What were you doing?
What I’m doing most of the time when I receive undesirable content: I exist.
Some people don’t take kindly when you disconnect with them on LinkedIn. Many a message have I received that aggressively demanded that I explained why I had disconnected with them… See the problem there?
I have blocked people on LinkedIn who found me on Facebook and Twitter (not that I’m hard to find) to demand my reasoning. It’s honestly something that I have found pretty traumatising, and while I have no qualm in blocking people on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, I’m always giving it way more thoughts than it probably deserves on LinkedIn.
As a platform, LinkedIn doesn’t make it super easy for you to block people or disconnect with them. Adam from the Brainfood live pointed out to me that you can remove connections without them knowing by going into My connections, searching for their name, clicking on the 3 dots and hitting the Remove connection button. Until then, I had used the more traditional approach, which was going onto the person’s profile and removing or blocking them – which enabled the malcontents to realise that I had disconnected with them (ding ding ding ding, Chloe viewed your LinkedIn profile!!!).
Blocking someone still requires to go onto their profile… That means, not only do I have to actively take a measure to prevent someone from pushing undesirable content at me, but I also have to make myself vulnerable to retaliation to do it.
The mansplaining epiphany
So, there was that male recruiter, that I had met at a meetup, about 2 years ago, he was in recruitment for about a month at the time, and I showed him how to build a Boolean string to x-ray websites on Google because I’m nice like that. He connected with me on LinkedIn, I accepted and completely forgot about him… Until the next meetup where he sought me out and the next, and the next, and the next. And when I started writing blog posts regularly, he commented on almost all of them and that creeped me out.
Besides being creepy and a bit sleazy during the meetups, his comments on my blogs were never out of line and yet they really annoyed me because I felt they were “useless” – they weren’t adding any value, they weren’t even saying it was a good blog post, they were just rephrasing (usually quite poorly) something I’d written in my post.
Until Hung Lee invited Ibtehal Hussein in Brainfood live and they discussed “mansplaining”, and that’s when it hit me: she had put a word on something I was feeling but couldn’t describe.
Once again, my friend Wikipedia was there with a handy definition: “Mansplaining is a pejorative term meaning "to comment on or explain something to a woman in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner".”
Commenting in an oversimplified manner – why did I bother write a 900 words article when it can be, not even summarized, but rephrased in a 3 lines comment?
I went from thinking that mansplaining was something obvious that I could easily push back on with facts (Thank you, I know how to use that tool, I showed you how to use it, remember?) to realising that it could be a lot more insidious and that it was very uncomfortable because there’s really nothing you can do about it.
Think about it, I can’t really go and reply “Thank you for your useless comment” or “Thank you for explaining my whole article to me”. That makes me look petty and aggressive, and trust me, that’s not a good look.
What can you do to support us?
Well, actually support us. And I’m saying this to everyone, not just to people who identify as non-females.
"What was the context?", "I'm trying to understand why you're reacting this way".
If a woman tells you about something that she received that has made her uncomfortable, don’t question why it had that effect. I get that you’re probably trying to understand the context, but really there’s nothing to understand: it made us feel uncomfortable, hurt, disgusted or whatever, and that’s all you need to know.
Don’t tell us what to do or how to feel.
“Why don’t you block them?”, “Don’t take it personally”. Just don’t do it. Be kind and ask us if we want to talk about it, if you want to make yourself useful.
Don’t make excuses for the sender.
“It’s just a joke”, “I don’t think he meant it that way”, “Get a sense of humour”. Really? I mean it’s a grown-up person who took the time to write a message online, surely, they understand how their words can affect other people.
Don’t be defensive.
“Oh, I don’t do that”, “Not all men”. Obviously, not all men, but enough. It's not about you, it's about how the recipient of the undesirable content feels. Knowing that not every single man does that, in no way diminishes the discomfort I’m feeling after reading what that man sent me. And once again, it’s not just this one time. It’s the multiple occurrences that range from micro-aggression to full on aggression.
And sorry if I'm breaking your bubble there, but if you don't do *that* (whatever the that is), it doesn't make you one of the good guys, it makes you a normal guy.
Call them out.
I know this one is not for everyone, especially in public, but if you feel like you can do it, be our knight in shining armour and tell them it’s not ok.