Women frequently harassed on networking sites – despite #MeToo


Tammy McDonald logged into her LinkedIn as she normally would on a typical workday. As an entrepreneur and founder of a company in the gaming industry, McDonald’s considers networking important to its success. While McDonald’s doesn’t always accept all of the LinkedIn requests it receives, keeping spam and trolls in mind, it generally accepts those from people with whom it shares common connections.

That day, she noticed that a man with whom she shared a common connection – who worked in the insurance industry – had sent her a connection request. She has accepted. After her acceptance, he sent her a message suggesting that they meet in person. McDonald did not respond and sent her another message saying “good morning” to her. She politely declined her invitation to meet him in person; it wasn’t the first time that a man on the professional networking platform seemed to have an ulterior motive. She asked him why he thought a face-to-face meeting would be helpful. They both resided in San Diego, and he said that using LinkedIn for “business,” being “a single man,” he thought he would contact her – a message threaded with a pink emoji.

“Just to be honest,” he wrote.

McDonald’s estimates that she has received more than 100 inappropriate messages from men on LinkedIn since she was on the platform. Frustrated and fed up, she spoke on LinkedIn about the dating: “With all the attention the world is seeing from the #MeToo movement, you’d think men would stop trying to use LinkedIn as a dating site. . ”

She raised a good point. Since Harvey Weinstein’s news broke in October, there has been a public judgment on sexual assault and sexual harassment in the workplace. As of February 8, 68 male have been charged with sexual harassment and / or assault and have been removed from office in various industries and professions, ranging from government to non-profit organizations to the media. In the midst of a cultural transition where sexual harassment is becoming less and less tolerable, why is online sexual harassment still pervasive?

“I think it’s easy for us to get lost in the semantics of what constitutes ‘cyberstalking’,” said Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and professor of criminology at Florida Atlantic University, Salon said. “I think we can make more significant progress in terms of meeting user needs when we step into their shoes and try to understand the psychological and emotional harm they might experience.”

According to a recent study by Pew Research, “Online harassment 201741% of Americans have experienced online harassment, such as physical threats, stalking, harassment over an extended period, or sexual harassment. For those who are targeted, the effects ranging from mental and emotional distress “to damage to reputation or even fear for personal safety” can be profound.

Gigi Engle, sex educator and writer, has twice received unsolicited genitalia photos on LinkedIn. This prevented her from truly using the platform as a way to connect with professionals in her industry.

“I don’t see LinkedIn as a safe place to network,” she told Salon. “I regularly get messages asking if I would be ready to meet up for coffee or if I would let someone buy me dinner.”

She said she chooses not to answer.

“It’s so obviously a weird come-on that I’m not interested in entertaining it,” she said.

LinkedIn told Salon that the company takes harassment very seriously and has tools it encourages users to use to block harassers.

“It is absolutely not acceptable to send unwanted romantic advances or other inappropriate messages in the same way on LinkedIn,” Tatiana De Almeida, who works within the communication company’s team, told Salon. LinkedIn. “We have a number of tools in place to help report and stop harassment, and we are also investing in new ways to improve the detection of inappropriate behavior and for members to tell us when something is wrong. not. “

She explained that the site encourages members to report any inappropriate postings so that LinkedIn can take appropriate action. There is also an option to block members and allow users to control what types of messages they want to receive.

However, the solutions offered by LinkedIn do not reduce the discomfort felt by some women due to demeaning behavior on the platform, which is intended to be a safe professional environment where women can network.

Christie M. Gaynor, owner of a small business in Southern California, called the unwanted advances she received “disrespectful.”

“Instead of a real conversation about how we can help each other, I would get messages like ‘you look pretty’, ‘I love your eyes’, “I like you” or “are you married?” “And that would not only be frustrating, but also a small business owner, totally disrespectful and a waste of time and energy,” Gaynor said.

Perhaps online sexual harassment has not been affected by the #MeToo effect as it is more difficult to punish and criminalize. Cassandra Kirsch, a Colorado lawyer who focuses on privacy, defamation and computer crime, explains that when an incident is reported to law enforcement, a penalty will likely depend on state laws – including whether specific acts such as photos of unsolicited genitals are provided in criminal statutes.

“If the specific conduct is not listed in a criminal law, law enforcement will often exercise its discretion not to act,” Kirsch told Salon.

Punishment may also depend on the relationship the survivor had with the stalker. If the stalker is a stranger and there is no specific criminal law on driving, law enforcement often needs a combination of repeated behavior and an explicit statement to stop driving before to be able to intervene. If the stalker is a former dating partner and the harassment borders on stalking or could turn into a physical encounter, someone can seek a restraining order, depending on the laws in your state. If it is a coworker, Kirsch suggests reporting the harassment to the human resources department and filing a complaint with the EEOC or the local civil rights division of the state concerned if the harassment results in a hostile work environment.

“Blocking an account alone, even if the person keeps creating fake accounts to keep contacting you, is often not enough for law enforcement to find out that you said you wanted your stalker to stop, believe it or not, ”she said.

Social media platforms are mostly protected under the Communications Decency Act of 1996; therefore, said platforms are not motivated to really do anything against stalkers, other than deleting their accounts, which stalkers can usually go ahead and create a new one. Kirsch says another obstacle to truly punishing cyber-stalkers is the lack of understanding of some judges and law enforcement due to a generational gap.

“People will say, ‘Why didn’t you just get off the Internet? »Why haven’t you deleted your account? This is not feasible in an age where we are expected to be on the Internet 24/7, networked all the time and responding to messages in real time, ”says Kirsch.

It’s sad but possible that cyberbullying in one form or another is still a part of our reality, especially as we continue to live very digital lives. Indeed, it is easy for stalkers to sit behind a screen, anonymously, and make rude comments to people they have never met. However, the goal of the #MeToo movement is not simply to erase sexual harassment from our culture; it’s about listening, believing women and being empathetic when they share their stories of harassment, both online and offline.


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