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LinkedOut: Why “Professional” Social Media Makes Us Hate Ourselves

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September 22, 2020

LinkedIn is the most toxic social media site on the internet, and this is a hill I’m fine with dying on.

As was the case with many people around the world, I found myself unemployed earlier this year and like any reasonable millennial-gen Z cusp, the first place I started job hunting was LinkedIn. Having seen no real reason to log on while at my last gig, I had lots of clean-up work on my hands. Connecting with former colleagues, updating my job descriptions with semi-truths, and finding a new profile picture that strikes the balance between attractive-yet-buttoned that’s quietly necessary for women on the internet. From there I clicked on the “jobs” tab, defined my criteria, pressed that bright blue search button. To my surprise, the only results to appear were at worst unpaid internships and at best minimum wage gigs that, despite being listed as entry-level, required 5-7 years of experience. The classic LinkedIn paradox.

After spending hours scrolling through the listings and hopelessly dropping applications in the inboxes of recruiters who would never open them, my self-confidence was running on fumes. I knew I was a young applicant but felt like I had a lot going for me. Two bachelor’s degrees, a loaded resume full of fancy job titles and internships, and a multilingual background? I had followed the advice of my elders and paid my dues, only to be left with a feed full of people I went to college with flexing their newest job titles. Every day of my job hunt, I never left the website feeling better than when I went on.

I figured that I couldn’t be alone in feeling this way, so I decided to drop the question, “How does going on LinkedIn make you feel?” on my Instagram story. My friends, all coming from different racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, educational, and gender backgrounds, filled my DMs with similar sentiments:

“Like a total shit who’s failing at life and will never have a good job again lolololol”

Why is it that despite the differences in identity we all had, the website had the same effect on us? Why does a social media network that appears to be an innocuous job board fill us with such existential dread?

Over the last few years, scientists and social critics have investigated the impact that having a multitude of easily accessible social media platforms has had on the general public. Much of the research points to the correlation between growing percentages of depression and social media usage, and it isn’t hard to see why that is. We’re consistently inundated with pictures of people who appear to be having a better time than us. Vacation pictures and location-tagged shopping binges from our friends, coworkers, and even strangers, rattle around in our heads as we do the mundane. Social media platforms are free because the items for purchase are us, and advertisers pay top dollar to play into our insecurities. Feeling inadequate isn’t an unfortunate flaw in the system, but rather its intended purpose.

The thing is—most adults know by this point that what they’re seeing on their feeds isn’t the truth, mostly because we also participate in the curation of our own realities for the worldwide web. Knowing this gives us the ability to take the things we see on our screens with a grain of salt. However, while we can justify flex pictures and filtered selfies as yet another white lie the internet told us, it’s harder to convince ourselves that something integral to your identity as your career could also be another fabrication.

Linkedin’s reputation as a job search assist instead of a social network allows the platform to be more sinister in the ways in which they market their advertisers to you. Rather than suggesting you buy new clothes or event tickets, LinkedIn advertisers play to the weaknesses of your resume —which to many is a more difficult blow to take. After receiving endless rejection emails and both unanswered and unopened application notifications, it’s no coincidence that the next person to slide into your DMs is a college recruiter convincing you how easy your job search would be if only you had a master’s degree.

For many, the mere existence of a job networking-based social media is a stark reminder that the lines between work and personal life are becoming more blurred than ever. Millennials are the first generation where taking work home with you became the norm. In my own professional life, supervisors hardly ever recognized contacting their subordinates after business hours as a crossed boundary, leading to frustration and burnout on both sides. In 2000, Americans worked an average of nearly 1900 hours a year, coming second only to Korea in regard to developed nations. While that number has fallen slightly over the last 20 years, that doesn’t account for the work done outside the office. The US is the only developed nation in the world without federally mandated sick leave, parental leave, vacation time, and for smaller companies, healthcare policies. Even though the productivity of the American workforce has increased 400% since the ’50s, we’re being worked harder than ever and given nothing in return.

Being overworked and underappreciated doesn’t come without its costs either. Research conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that overworked Americans are at higher risk for health conditions such as heart issues, stress, sleep deprivation, hypertension, depression, and anxiety. Not only is it difficult to complete your own large workload, but it’s an extra burden to remember that you’re consistently being compared to your colleagues. Promotions, bonuses, and other workplace perks have us constantly at odds with the people we work in conjunction with each day. We’re encouraged to one-up them by working (often unpaid) over time and by earning advanced degrees we don’t actually need to get ahead. We’re already losing our personal relationships to work, while subconsciously being pitted against the people at the office, leaving us in a pit of isolation that, to many, seems impossible to leave.

LinkedIn is sadness inducing to most young adults because it’s the worst parts of America’s toxic work culture rolled into a pocket-sized app.

To us, it’s a reminder that not only are we about to be subjected to the most unhealthy workforce in the industrialized world but that we are also expected by society to carry the torch and perpetrate the same noxious attitudes toward labor to the folks that come after us. We don’t need a website donning a pleasant façade to tell us that our education is inadequate, or that your ex-partner made manager at their accounting firm. It’s time to dethrone work-based social networking as the global standard for job hunting, and it’s time to ask our universities and offices to stop pushing the narrative that getting a job requires you to sacrifice your privacy and wellbeing. By rejecting LinkedIn and websites like it, we’re rejecting making our work our identities, which will inevitably make our mental health, our passions, and our personal lives a lot stronger.

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