Megalomania, emotional blackmail, prostitution, drug dealing, and creepy men named Bob. Depending on your perspective, these are either the ingredients for the first two seasons of Twin Peaks, or a few basic features of your LinkedIn feed.
Visit the world's biggest social network for professionals, and you'll notice something's changed. No longer is the site characterized by very earnest CV updates and people endorsing jokey skills like "weight gain" and "vole herding" on their friends' profiles. Now, there's much more to it than that: direct messages inviting you to join "Fat Joe–approved" pyramid schemes; photos of people doing "good deeds"; middle-aged bank managers arguing about breasts; a steady stream of inspirational quotes, in which Salvador Dalí, Steve Jobs, and Muhammad Ali impart pieces of wisdom that have absolutely nothing to do with finding a job
Individuals are trying to make their profiles go viral in the hope that potential employers will see they're really good at reposting memes and then offer them a spot at their actuarial firm or funeral parlor. In fact, admits LinkedIn's senior communications manager Crystal Braswell, it's the evolution of the network feed into something more akin to Facebook and Twitter that has put a "heavy impetus" on members trying to generate viral posts.
READ ON VICE LONG READS: The Things the World's Billionaires Are Funding to Help Humanity Become Immortal
Although she is unable to provide any statistical data to back this up, Braswell says there's a direct link between users posting viral content and career growth. "We have heard from members that after posting viral posts, they have gotten new jobs or opportunities," she says. "It's all about opening up your thought process to your peers."
However, it turns out that many of your peers do not appreciate you opening up your thought process. Some LinkedIn users have been voicing their annoyance with the Facebookification of the site using the #RIPLinkedIn hashtag on Twitter, lamenting the posting of "inappropriate pictures," the many, many spam messages they receive, and the "political propaganda" they see popping up in their feeds.
Still, Braswell says LinkedIn's 250 million users are now "more engaged then they've ever been." So what exactly do they all find so engaging?
Picture the scenario: You're at a music festival, you've dropped a pill, you've lost your friends because it's dark and your eyes are doing that weird flickering thing, and you've decided to just plant on top of a grassy bank and dance around for a bit by yourself. You are less aware of your body than usual, so do not realize that both of your arms are above your head and that your lower jaw is parallel with the tip of your nose.
A few years later, you've heard that a LinkedIn profile will definitely result in a six figure wage, so you go ahead and sign up. Everything looks good at first. Colin Okoye from school has endorsed your timekeeping skills; Jenny Atkins from college has reached out to tell you there's temp work at the entirely faceless logistics company she works for, if you're looking?
And then you refresh your feed. Fear—the kind that strikes right in the lower intestine when you wake up after the Christmas party and remember that you called your boss a "Tory cunt" as a joke no less than 15 times—consumes your entire central nervous system. A PR guru named Hans has shared a video of you dancing at that music festival with his peers and tagged it with an inspirational message: "It only takes one person to create a crowd."
"I might see a post like that, and maybe I'm in the middle of a crazy day, so it's a welcome reset," says Braswell. "It can be inspiring to read for some businessmen and women."
I'm generally not very inspired by videos of people dancing, so I scroll through my own LinkedIn feed to see if I can find something genuinely inspiring that might provide a welcome reset in the relentless succession of disappointment that is my life.
Someone has liked a story about a toddler—well, a stock photo of a toddler—giving her mom the sweeter of two apples. The post is designed to "improve your judgement skills as a working professional." Obviously. Another post about two giant dogs ready to tear shreds of shit out of each other is a cautionary tale about your moral conscience... in the office! Finally, I am greeted by an image of the 11th president of India, APJ Abdul Kalam. A quote attributed to him reads: "Success definition: when our 'signature' changes to 'autograph.'" He is grinning at me, mocking me with his smile.
None of this inspires me. In fact, if anything, it makes me feel worse. I'm 27, and my signature isn't considered an autograph to anyone on earth.
WEIRD EMOTIONAL BLACKMAIL
Business, eh? The old rat race. Survival of the fittest. Doing a job. It can be pretty taxing, right? Sometimes so taxing that our mind's eye becomes completely blinded by the red hot poker of spreadsheets and expense forms, and we lose sight of the struggles of our fellow man.
So what better way to remedy this—and beef up that profile engagement—than by sharing some Humans of New York-esque posts with our LinkedIn contacts? An HR manager at Asda who recently posted a selfie with an elderly man she'd spent two hours having coffee with knows this full well. The caption stated that her conversation with the man was "the perfect reminder that amongst the hustle and bustle of everyday life and work, time really is the greatest gift to give someone." Her post racked up nearly 200,000 likes and was praised by some in the comments as "the best thing I've seen all year".
LinkedIn's Crystal Braswell approves of the post, saying: "I don't think that it is random, as while it might not resonate with someone like you, another person may see lots of relevance or be inspired to take some time out of their busy day."
Let's explore the facts: At worst, most people would get fired if they took two hours out of their day to have coffee with a stranger. At best, they'd have to endure a very tedious disciplinary meeting. But who am I to disagree with a post that has touched quadruple the population of the Faroe Islands? There are more and more of these "good deed" posts appearing, presumably now that people have cottoned on to the fact that Being a Nice Person = V Good Chance of Becoming Employed.
THE PICK-UP ARTISTS
British lawyer Charlotte Proudman, dubbed a "feminazi" by the Daily Mail, recently made the headlines after receiving a message from a senior partner at a law firm, in which he called her profile picture "stunning." She subsequently outed him as a sexist and claimed that rich white businessmen now use LinkedIn to pick up women.
I ask a female friend for some more evidence of this. She presents Bob, one of her many regular commenters. Bob, who she's never actually met, tells her he would move "heaven and earth" to meet with her. Another guy adds a winking smiley to the beginning of the sentence: "Have you ever covered peer-to-peer lending?"
I'm unsure of whether that bizarre pickup routine has worked on literally anyone in the past, but it definitely didn't work on my friend.
Separately, I see a female designer has posted a grinning photo where she's clutching a dog with a big floppy tongue. The dress she's in is very cleavage-y. I'm not sure why she's shared this on LinkedIn, but the commenters don't seem to mind.
The process of scraping—which involves a company using the details of a LinkedIn member to create a fake profile to then sell on dodgy financial deals—is rife on LinkedIn. The company has previously admitted that the process "undermines the integrity and effectiveness of LinkedIn's professional network by polluting it with thousands of fake profiles."
That means you could be accepting requests from clones of your friends, or be victim to someone using your image to completely fuck people over.
SEX AND DRUGS
Type in the word "escorts," and you're greeted with more than 10,000 results. While I'm sure not all of these results represent sex workers, a few clicks in, and I'm on the profile of Nottingham-based escort agency Midlands Maidens, which proudly cites "Microsoft Office" as one of its skills. LinkedIn is on the internet, so finding something to do with sex within its wide collection of accounts is no huge surprise— it is a little odd, considering the site specifically forbids "profiles or content that promotes escort services or prostitution."
Another search takes me to a page proudly offering a regular supply of cocaine. While it's probably a hoax, it's no secret drug transactions are taking place on LinkedIn, with weed growers operating in places where cannabis is legal advertising their wares to the entire world—much of which is still pretty backward when it comes to drug laws. So will I soon be able to recommend people on my connections list based on their marijuana growing capabilities?
Braswell counters: "I think we are succeeding on clamping down on content that violates rules. I do. I see the team making good strides. Ultimately, we provide tools so you can filter out the content in your feed that you don't want to see. You can block users. Moving forward, we will provide more clarity and education to users that these tools exist. The feed will become more customizable."
It's a fair point. After all, I don't have to see any of this. I have choices. I decide to click "hide this content" and "unfollow" on all the regular pests who clog up my feed, before hitting the refresh button. I still don't have a job, but at least I never have to read another Katharine Hepburn quote in my life.
Follow Thomas Hobbs on Twitter.