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Sometimes, accepting that seemingly harmless LinkedIn invitation turns out to be an invitation to connect on a personal (and much creepier) level than you ever expected. Women, more so than men, are the unlucky victims when it comes to getting hit on via social networking.
“...this kind of behavior on LinkedIn — in which young female professionals are targeted by men trolling for dates, casual encounters or just sending solicitous messages—is becoming something close to the new normal,” says Meghan Casserly in her Forbes article, “Is LinkedIn The New Dating Hot Spot, or a Breeding Ground for Harassment?” Casserly discusses the unfortunate events that unfolded online for interactive media strategist, Ashely Olson, who has “seen more than 250 inappropriate messages in the past 12 months.” In fact, the incoming messages were so absurd that Olson decided to start a blog, SocialCreeps.com, where she posts some of the more inappropriate requests she and her twin sister have received on social media.
How do you tell if you’re teetering dangerously close to creep status, or if you might be the victim of a social networking invitation turned online dating request? Let’s not forget that it’s a thin line between following someone, and cyber stalking. Thanks to LinkedIn’s Who’s Viewed Your Profile feature, users can see exactly who is lurking on their page and how often. If someone continues to creep on your profile and send you awkward messages, then you have a cyber stalker on your hands.
If someone refers to you as “cutie” or “sweetie” in their introduction email, then it’s obvious that this person is in it for all the wrong reasons, so don’t be naive to their fishing efforts. It’s never appropriate to use this type of behavior in the workplace or in any other professional setting, such as a networking event, and it’s definitely not suitable for online networking.
What can you do to protect yourself from the unfortunate and mistaken ones on social media (LinkedIn specifically)? First things first: send that person a polite message back explaining that he or she may have gotten the wrong impression and that you’re interested in networking professionally, not personally. Most of the other social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, allow you to easily block people, so it’s easy to rid yourself of those users who rub you the wrong way. LinkedIn does not offer a blocking feature yet, but it’s in the pipeline due to the many requests the site has received from its users to add such a service.
If a connection continues to harass you, despite your efforts to politely give him or her a hint, then report the inappropriate behavior to LinkedIn immediately. To prevent strangers from viewing your profile, you might want to consider hiding your public profile, or, at least, change the visibility of your profile photo so that it is only visible to your network. LinkedIn allows users to control who can send invitations, which can definitely help as a gatekeeper and keep potential creepers from harassing you online. Lastly, remove the person from your network so that you won’t have to see their face or profile when scrolling through your LinkedIn homepage.
The next time you get an invitation to connect on social media, beware of the potential benefits and dangers of clicking the accept button – because, for some, “accept” really means “I do.”
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