NANDINI VAIDYANATHAN explains how LinkedIn has digressed from a professional networking site to people posting about their personal lives on the platform
Reid Hoffman who was one of the co-founders of LinkedIn created the platform in 2002 with the belief that whilst MySpace and Facebook are cool personal networking sites, the opportunity on the business side is much larger. Thus LinkedIn was created as a professional networking site. In other words, to meet and greet and profit from professional connections. Towards this end, by 2005, they had launched jobs and recruitment features along with paid subscription. In 2016, Microsoft acquired a significant stake in LinkedIn valued at $26 billion, by far the largest acquisition Microsoft ever made at that time, as they believed that Microsoft Office 365 and LinkedIn had huge synergies to grow hand in hand, even as ‘they seek to empower every person and organisation on the planet’ (Satya Nadella).
As late as 2019, LinkedIn introduced a new feature for businesses where freelancers could be discovered and engaged with on the platform. So in the last nearly two decades, they have stayed true to their purpose and it is to their credit that they have managed to remain a virtual monopoly in the professional networking space.
I have been on LinkedIn probably since 2006. And except in one instance where the guy sent me a marriage proposal, all interactions have been strictly professional. I have over 12000 connections; I have a thumb rule that before I accept an invitation, the other member should have 500+ connections and minimum 50 mutual connections.
The only exception I make is in the case of entrepreneurs. And I must admit I have felt unreasonably chuffed to receive invitations from virgin LinkedIn-ners (0 connections)!
In the last 18 months, I have noticed (post covid) that the posts on LinkedIn have changed dramatically in character. The posts have become blatantly personal. It is about death of a family member; it is about a family member who is struggling to fight cancer; it is about blood requirement; it is about sex change; it is about change in preferences for personal pronouns; it is about incredible hardships in the personal space; it is about failing mental health; it is about inspirational stories that talk of recovery of self and self-esteem; it is about domestic abuse; it is about botched surgeries; it is about preaching from the pulpit on how it is one life and you better live it on your terms; it is about birth announcements and obituaries. I can go on and on because in my head I have been filing away all the typical posts that have been coming up on my feed and increasingly I am asking myself, when did LinkedIn change its character from a professional networking site to an agony aunt platform?
Don’t get me wrong. I understand covid has been extremely unkind to mankind. I have my share of covid woes too. But who was the first culprit who posted a personal story here and when? And how come LinkedIn allowed it and continues to allow it? Yes I understand we are humans and as such our personal and professional spaces cannot be put in air-tight compartments. Whilst I have no reservation about a pic that a lady Board member may put up that shows her breast-feeding her baby whilst attending a Board meeting, I have serious issues if the intent of the post is the fact of breast-feeding and not the agenda of the Board meeting! You understand where I am coming from?
We have all been brought up on a diet of sharing woes is halving woes. And on a platform such as LinkedIn, technically speaking, given the number of members you are sharing your woes with, once you post, your woes ought to vanish! I get it. We have suddenly become this vulnerable, don’t-mind-sharing-my-vulnerability -with-strangers species since covid. Now the boundaries of what should be shared and should be endured have disappeared. They have disappeared because social media has democratised access to a public address system. ‘Have grief, will holler’ seems to be the emerging anthem. I have only one question. Why LinkedIn?
It is quite likely that the answer will be, where else? Facebook icon is no longer on the home screen of our mobiles, Instagram insists on less words, more pics, so where else can you air your shredded linen? But have you asked your fellow members whether they would like you to share? And what I find even more shocking is that when someone posts a tragic story, instead of empathy, I find people getting volubly abusive! I saw a pic the other day of a road accident where the person’s wife died and he is cradling her in his arms. And he had written just one word. Devastated. And the very first comment was “you deserve it jackass, instead of calling the ambulance why are you holding her!!” Seriously?
That makes me wonder, if we all know that a personal post gets brutally trolled, why do we still post at all? Or is this some kind of masochism? LinkedIn, please wake up and stick to the knitting.