Recently I have been spending less time on Facebook and more time on LinkedIn and my outlook on life is better for it. The shift started earlier this year, there were two events in my social circle that made me realise Facebook is destructive, particularly for women’s self-esteem, solidarity and respect.
The first one was an acquaintance who was having an extra marital affair (all the while posting ‘happy family’ pictures of her and her children on Facebook). The happy family photos and all the comments made me feel uneasy, and then it got worse when the affair was finally out in public, of course a lot of people defriended the woman and posted hate comments and ridicule about her on other people’s pages. Yes, this acquaintance made a mistake and a fairly colossal one, but rather than talk to her about it, all her friends and family spent hours on Facebook posting venomous spurts into the internet’s thin air. I did not agree with what she did, but I began to feel sorry for her, she may not have any idea that her closest friends were re-posting her selfies and calling her a whore.
The second one was a female acquaintance who won an award and since it was self-nominated process there was a lot of controversy around whether she was a ‘deserving’ recipient of the award. Again, rather than having a discussion directly about this, people vented on Facebook, behind her back, often the same people that made positive posts on her own page congratulating her on winning the award were then posting on a different page suggesting she did not deserve the award, was entitled and self-promoting, was of the wrong age, ethnic background etc, etc.
It made me doubt the sincerity of people on Facebook, and doubt myself as well. Were Facebook “friends” a bunch of people using their posts to hide their two faces? If someone congratulated me on something, was it sincere? If I made a mistake in my life at any point, how would I be treated online, would it be the same as these two women were treated? What gossip or jokes did people say about me on Facebook? It sent me into a bit of a tailspin.
Then I thought, what impact would something like this make on a teenage girl? It was an eye-opener on how destructive Facebook could be, damaging people’s ability to trust others, their own self-esteem, their own lives. This is in addition to all the other risks of Facebook for young girls – type in “Facebook” and “girls” into a search engine and a long list of “girl drugged”, “girl tricked” and sexual content will soon be revealed. And there is the pressure of living a “Facebook-worthy” appearance, I mean looking perfect and being ready for a selfie or Facebook pic at all times, as you can never escape friends taking them, photos being posted and then being judged in multiple ways – not pretty, too sexy, looking old, looking photoshopped, too this, too that.
But I am rather addicted to social media, just a few minutes in the morning or at the 3pm energy slump, to expose myself to a bit of inspiration and ideas and take a brain break from work. So, I turned to LinkedIn instead. I made a rule that I could spend around 15 minutes a day on Linkedin and only go on Facebook to see if anyone had left me a message.
LinkedIn was like visiting a world which was the complete opposite of Facebook. On Facebook, women post photos seeking compliments of how they LOOK. On LinkedIn women post about what they are DOING seeking feedback, recognition and connections (compliments come too of course but it is about their work, their passions, not their hair). On LinkedIn EVERY DAY there were posts about successful women being shared, on Facebook that was rare. On LinkedIn, I found connections to people based on my ideas and work, on Facebook a lot of the connections were about friends stalking other friends. On LinkedIn, I could happily accept invites from men I had never met, knowing they were interested in my work, not in sending me suggestive messages when they were bored which was always a risk with Facebook. The hacking of accounts in LinkedIn seems rare, in Facebook hacking is a daily occurance, Prime Ministers and Presidents are not immune from it.
LinkedIn is a social media network with etiquette. People post about their work, ideas and inspiration. There are always a few that are not polite – there was one LinkedIn acquaintance who posted about her naked boyfriend, and another that posted about what they were having for lunch – both rather flippant posts that sit in isolation from the other interesting debates and discussions on LinkedIn – but in my experience so far, 99% of users are not like that. Apart from that one naked boyfriend post (which I should clarify was words not photos), I have never seen any sexual content on LinkedIn. It is one of the few forums on the internet where women and girls can be valued primarily for their ideas and achievements.
People are there to make genuine connections. Yes, I know, LinkedIn arose primarily as a way to network for work purposes, to know people who could get you jobs, promotions, clients and the like. And it’s a good idea not to accept invitations from people not in your field of work who look like they are friending people for marketing purposes. But I have found a lot of the dialogue is not necessarily about self promotion and marketing, it is about finding like-minded and different people and talking about practices, processes, goals and achievements in particular fields of work. I discovered through LinkedIn that some of my friends I’d connected because they were distant family, or had kids at my kids’ school for example, had similar outlooks to me on what is effective aid, how to foster social inclusion in policy and supported gender equity at work. I was able to get to know much more about them. For people I didn’t know so well, I could see the attitudes and approaches of people before I worked with them, through looking at their LinkedIn posts of what they liked and what they had achieved. Since I work as a research consultant, and jump around from one organisation to another, it was a way to keep in touch with projects and staff I had worked with before and how they were doing. People wrote to me for advice and shared stories, I responded and felt connected and valued.
The advertising and sponsored content is also profoundly different in nature. Firstly, there is much less of it, and secondly it’s based on your work field, so it can be quite useful to know about what the World Economic Forum is doing, or what are the top ranking universities are this year, which is what you find in sponsored content on LinkedIn. On Facebook, I get ads about washing detergent and clothes (I can’t remember if Facebook asked me what I was interested in, but I guarantee you it isn’t washing detergent!)
These days I am encouraging young women to spend less time on Facebook and go on LinkedIn, especially those who work on issues like violence, conflict and social exclusion like I do. Such work can be isolating and stressful and it helps to learn from what others do, share ideas and celebrate small successes dealing with monumental problems. I can see there are very active LinkedIn members who are women in science, technology and engineering and probably other male-dominated fields too, and I can understand why. Positive reinforcement from people who have the same challenges as you do helps keep you going.
I might be optimistic, but I hope the future of women and girls is the reality I have experienced on LinkedIn. There are only so many females that can survive mainly on their looks, and beautiful Facebook selfies. We need our work, our wits and a supportive environment to achieve our best, and LinkedIn can help.
p.s. if you want to be linked this is me: