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The Perils of Linkedin

September 2015

One of the most popular topics on the Employment Law lecture circuit at the moment is Social Media in the workplace. I have delivered many such talks myself and am always amazed at the interest in the audience and the plentiful, very well thought out and intelligent questions I get asked afterwards.

I keep preaching to people about the perils of Social Media. Whereas it can clearly be a great Marketing tool it is a two edged sword. A carefully and professionally presented C.V. posted in appropriate places on the Internet can do wonders for your career. An intemperate tweet or posting on Face Book after a few too many glasses of wine can destroy a career overnight.

Even I was surprised however at the fuss over a Linkedin connection invite  which has taken national media by storm today and even got a mention on the prestigious Today programme on Radio 4.

Most of us are familiar with Linkedin and the creation of  profiles. I have one myself.  It is a useful marketing tool and also a handy way of getting in touch with Business colleagues. So when Barrister Charlotte Proudman invited Solicitor Alexander Carter-Silk to connect it was a perfectly normal everyday occurrence. As part of the Linkedin community however you place a picture on your Profile page which in the Legal Profession is normally one professionally taken by your firm or your chambers if you are a barrister. The problems arose with Mr Carter-Silk’s acceptance.

Charlotte, delighted to connect, I appreciate that this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but that is a stunning picture !!!
You definitely won the prize with the best Linkedin picture I have ever seen.

Always interested to understand people’s skills and how they might work together.

Signed Alex”.

This acceptance of the invite promoted the following reply.

“Alex I find your message offensive.  I am on Linkedin for Business purposes not to be approached about my physical appearance or to be objectified by sexist men.  The eroticisation of women’s physical appearance is a way of exercising power over women.  It silences women’s professional attributes as their physical appearance becomes the subject.

Unacceptable and misogynistic behaviour. Think twice before sending another woman (half your age) such a sexist message. 

Charlotte.”

Debate has raged in the comment pages of the national newspapers (and needless to say the lawyer chat site Roll on Friday) about whether Mr Carter-Silk’s reply was merely an inoffensive comment and a way of breaking the ice on line or an offensive and sexist comment.

Equally as regards the reply there are those who find it a massive over-reaction to a simple compliment and those who feel she was justified in her reaction.

Whatever your opinion (and I am certainly not expressing mine here !) Miss Proudman put the exchange on her Twitter feed which has now gone viral and effectively she put this exchange in the public domain for the world to see.

Although this was not strictly speaking an Employment Law issue it highlights a problem faced in so many workplaces as to whether complimenting someone on their appearance can amount to sexual harassment.  I have friends who are employment lawyers in the United States and Canada where they tell me that they would regularly advise that you should never compliment or refer to your co-workers appearance even though you may feel you know them very well.

Here many female columnists in the National Newspapers have said that it was an over-reaction and it should never get to the stage that a man should be able to compliment a woman on her appearance and there is nothing in Mr Carter-Silk’s message that could possibly be regarded as inappropriate. Others have defended and indeed praised Miss Proudman’s actions. With passionate opinions on both sides it is a Grade A news story.

To me the real lesson to be learned reinforces my belief which I constantly preach that you have to be very careful before committing anything to the Internet. Once there it cannot be removed, there will always be a trace. It will be there for anybody to see long into the future.

Predictably once Internet messages go viral Miss Proudman has told the Media that she is now being trolled by people telling her that her career is over and making offensive remarks to her.  At the time of writing the Daily Mail online piece alone has attracted nearly 7,000 comments.

My advice to employers and employees remains the same. Before you commit ANYTHING to the Internet think very, very, very carefully. It will be there for all the world (and the many trolls in it) to see and there will be nothing you can do about it.

Click here to go back to In The Media.

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