My LinkedIn Network Has a Ton To Say About Ukraine Right Now

According to experts, that's not a bad thing.

Mar 4 2022, 5:44pm

LinkedIn is supposed to be a mindless apolitical refuge for the vague careerist in all of us. A place where friends of friends and total strangers celebrate work anniversaries, post job listings, and write about how much they enjoy growing at their start-up as if their founder were holding a gun to their head. But earlier this week, while I scrolled through the usual dreck, I saw something I didn’t expect: Solidarity with Ukraine. 

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“The Ukrainian people are resilient and strong,” said a college professor. “Ukraine, we are all with you and want this war to stop as soon as possible,” wrote a client success manager, whose post a former colleague liked. Hope she sees this, I sneered. 

When did everyone decide the best way to process a global crisis was to post through it? According to two sociologists who study social movements, the answer is actually “always”—and it’s maybe not even a bad thing. “What you're actually seeing happen online are probably conversations that used to happen in person that we didn't hear,” said Jennifer Earl, a sociology professor at the University of Arizona. “You couldn't go at a click of a button into another person's dining room table and find out how they were trying to think about this war in Ukraine.” 

This, to be frank, wasn’t the answer I expected. I’ve found myself in the same camp as internet culture reporters reminding people that it’s OK not to post. A big part of me wishes that fewer people in my network felt the need to weigh in on global politics. I assumed the impulse was a self-centered one: Viewing news from Ukraine through the prism of American Me and then contributing to “the conversation” by saying “yoooo nuclear war would suck!!!!!” alongside videos of dead bodies in the streets of Kharkiv and smiling young Ukranians stuffing styrofoam into beer bottles to make Molotov cocktails feels… wrong and counterproductive.

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But some experts who actually study the way the digital sphere impacts social movements disagree. “There's a lot of hand-wringing and worrying that people are doing social media messaging in place of what we think of as more genuine social activism,” said Kelsy Kretschmer, an assistant professor of sociology at Oregon State University. “But the research on this is really quite clear that those two things go together—there's a positive relationship between social media use and activism.” Social media conversation augments other political action—like contacting policymakers, attending protests, or joining a political organization—by letting more people plug in and by making it clear to the powers that be that people are paying attention to their next moves on the issue of the day.

Earl told me she sees social media conversation around current events as a facet of participatory politics—personal engagement in the political realm that turns regular people into “civic actors” and instruments for change. “That doesn't mean that people get it right all the time, or they have the right resources,” she said. The important thing, big picture, is that these conversations are happening in the first place. “Imagine an alternative world in which people aren't tweeting and investigating and investing themselves in this issue—there is no way in which the U.S. government is as invested.”

Kretschmer did acknowledge that posting isn’t always about political self-expression. “It's worth saying that because of the way professional life works now, if you're somebody with a big platform, there's constant pressure to be visible and to stay relevant, so you have to be commenting on what's happening every day,” she said, which could explain the LinkedIn posts. “And another piece of it is that your credibility and your status within the network of people that you're connected to depends on you looking like you're paying attention and having—I hesitate to say this—the morally correct position on it. You don’t want to look like you are the one who doesn't care about the thing that everybody in your network cares about.” 

Still, what looks annoying and weird to me and my fellow haters is actually a key process by which people figure out their political values—what matters to them and even what they might want to fight for in the streets. “People who are very active on social media platforms around any kind of a cause—Ukraine, Black Lives Matter, Freedom Convoy, any of it—the vast majority of those people will never show up at any kind of protest event, or they'll never do anything else,” Kretschmer said. “But that’s true even without social media. For lots of people, this is their first step into caring more about politics, or inequality, or whatever social movement they're being introduced to.”

Katie Way is a staff writer at VICE. Follow her on Twitter.

Tagged:

Twitter, Ukraine, Social Media, LinkedIN, participatory politics

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