A couple of weeks ago, I deleted my LinkedIn account. It was without a single shadowy doubt one of the best decisions I've ever made.
I signed up for LinkedIn back in 2014 while I was still in college. I was told by pretty much every professional mentor that I'd come into contact with that it was absolutely necessary for networking and job-seeking, and would be an invaluable asset to our post-grad careers. For the first few years after I joined LinkedIn, I didn't engage with it very much - I was, after all, still in school, and my only "connections" were with folks I knew in real life who were also in school. It wasn't until I started for-real job hunting in my last semester of undergrad that I began spending more time on the platform. What I discovered (rather quickly, I might add) was that the world's most popular professional networking website isn't very "professional" at all. It's more like a digital hellscape sewn together from a bunch of those annoying chain emails from the early 2000s and overinflated corporate "influencer" egos that makes Facebook look like a utopia of Thoughtful, Creative, & Insightful Content in comparison.
While it was helpful to have a link to share on my resume where interested employers could view all of my professional, academic, and volunteer experience, as well as a place to list all of my publication credits, in the six years I kept an active account on LinkedIn I received one message from an actual recruiter who was interested in interviewing me for a legitimate professional role related to my work experience. The rest of the messages and connection requests I received were from self-described "entrepreneurs" looking to rope me into MLM schemes, or sleazy sales pitches for software or coaching services that weren't even remotely related to anything listed on my profile. One person I "connected" with messaged me within five minutes asking me to tell them more about my freelance writing business, then promptly tried to pitch me their services as a "public speaking coach." (To clarify, this isn't a dig at teachers or coaches who specialize in public speaking - it's a great skill for everyone to have! But if I were a public speaking coach looking to connect with potential clients, someone with "Freelance Copy & Content Writer" at the top of a LinkedIn profile filled with largely behind-the-scenes writing and editing work probably wouldn't tip off my Target Audience Radar.)
I also got a lot of painfully obvious phishing scams, as well as a boatload of "personal" connection requests from creepy corporate dudes. I kind of wish I'd taken screenshots to share with you, because some of them were truly hilarious. But you can get an idea of what I was up against here.
(As an aside, can we also talk about the fact that men who treat LinkedIn like a dating app are dissuading womxn and enby folks from joining or remaining on the platform, which has a direct impact on employment access? Just sayin'.)
But the spam and the sleaze (and the incredibly boring nature of the network) aren't even the worst parts of LinkedIn. Earlier this year, as protests against police brutality and systemic racism swelled up around the country in response to the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, many of the mental health and nonprofit organizations that I followed on LinkedIn began sharing content that directly addressed the effects of racism and police violence on mental health, professional development, and employment access among Black folks and other people of color. The amount of vitriol and gaslighting and out-right hate coming from white "professionals" in the comment threads made me sick to my stomach. Racism, overt or covert, no longer surpises me (though I desperately wish that it did) but the fact that so much of the disgusting and tone-deaf comments I saw were being made by white people with titles like "CEO" and "Senior Talent Advisor" was a gut-wrenching reminder of how much racism plays into who gets hired and promoted. Who has the ability to build a satisfying and gainful career trajectory for themselves. Who has access to financial freedom and wealth-building resources. Who can and can't provide for themselves and their families. Who, in the end, gets to be seen as human.
(For a closer look at the racist culture of LinkedIn, I recommend giving this article on the rise of Black LinkedIn and the white backlash against it three minutes of your time. If you're on the platform, it might offer some new perspective on whose voices you should welcome into your feed.)
Each of these factors are irredeemable enough on their own. But nothing exists in a vacum, and the common thread that ties them all together is the culture of bland pretentiousness that powers LinkedIn - which is, after all, the digital arm of corporate America. Need some examples? Take a look at some of these gems, which I pulled from @CrapOnLinkedIn on Twitter. (Which, I won't lie, has become my go-to parody account for when I need a laugh.)
And, my personal favorite:
If a picture (or in this case, a screenshot) paints a thousand words, these demotivational nuggets say something less than flattering about our societal attitude towards work and business that extends far beyond the digital boundaries of LinkedIn: that the worth of a person is tied to how willing they are to give themselves completely over to their work. That puffed-up postering and a cutthroat competitive streak are the only ways to get ahead in the business world - which, let's be honest, is still the domain of able-bodied cishet white men. That a person's inherent worthiness is contingent on how much revenue they bring into a company with predatory and manipulative sales tactics. That building a fulfilling career requires a willingness to forgo basic human needs like food and sleep and rest and play and social connection. That to have success, you have to be willing to step on and over others who are in the same boat as you.
Maybe I'm naive or an idealist, but that's not the foundation I want to set for my career. I want to build relationships with clients that are based on mutual respect and authentic connection, not because I've used manipulative marketing tactics to convince them to hire me. I want the work I create to do more than just drive sales funnels: I want it to change the status-quo. I want it move people to create their own dreams into being. I want it to be part of building a world based on collaboration and creativity and community care, instead of a culture of "winners and losers." And the truth is that in 2020, more entrepreneurs - especially Millennials and the newly coming-of-age Gen Z - are taking this approach to business than ever before, proving that it IS possible to build a sustainable, heart-centered career doing work you love that brings much-needed healing and hope to our fractured world.
And the best part? You won't find us on LinkedIn. :)