Careful what you poke. Photo: Rubberball/Getty

LinkedIn just became a political grenade, and no one knows what they’re on about

If Pauline Kingi has really resigned for poking someone 23 times on professional Facebook, then that’s a real bloody shame, writes social media aficionado Anna Connell

Every now and again there are moments in time which make you wonder just what kind of hell-scape episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror we’re now living in.

The week’s headlines about Dr Pauline Kingi and her subsequent resignation because of nefarious LinkedIn endorsement activity is one of those moments. I doubt there’s a reporter alive that has ever written a headline containing the words “LinkedIn endorsement” before this week. They will have learned very quickly, as I have based on the number of red squiggly underlines in my draft, to capitalise that second I. The tens of headlines now produced have probably generated the most press coverage LinkedIn endorsements have ever had in their short but apparently lethal lifetime. LinkedIn’s Endorsement publicist will wake up to an inbox full of Google alerts and will be wondering when the sleepy hobbits in Middle Earth got the internet.

I have yet to read all the coverage today as I’ve been busy checking my LinkedIn endorsements to see if there’s anything that could get me fired and wondering why I got endorsed for “team work” but it was something of a shock to wake up to hear Morning Report presenters reading listener feedback on the subject of LinkedIn. My immediate thought was to look out the window to check that the gates of hell hadn’t opened and my second was a very sudden realisation that today was my day to shine. Finally, a national debate I could contribute to, nay, be a leading voice in.

Everything in my life has led to this moment. Hours and hours studying the minutia of social media determining the value of a like and the meaning of the “man levitating” emoji makes me the perfect person to explain this complex and deadly web of activity that ultimately led to a highly qualified person resigning as head of the inquiry into Wally Haumaha’s appointment as deputy police commissioner.

Apparently, Kingi had endorsed Haumaha for 23 different things on LinkedIn, including “security” and “firearms”. We have online forensic detective MP Chris Bishop to thank for bringing this to our attention and introducing “LinkedIn endorsement” to the national conversation. Thank you, Chris, thank you.

Over on Kiwiblog, David Farrar has suggested that “If you know someone well enough to publicly endorse them on Linked In [sic], you know them too well to head up an inquiry into their appointment.”

This is total rubbish. I’ve been endorsed by people on LinkedIn I’ve never met for things I have never done, like being good at team work. If I haven’t met you, it’s highly unlikely you were ever in a team with me and if you were, you wouldn’t be endorsing me for it.

As an actual LinkedIn expert (although not LinkedIn endorsed as such), I have spent many years training CEOs, execs and workforces on how to use LinkedIn. Listening to the debate rage I unfortunately have to conclude that 99% of people commenting on it have no idea what they’re talking about. This is not their fault. For a network that essentially hosts the hottest professional party in town for 500 million ready-to-network professionals, they’re really good at acting like a needy person that has no friends and likes to complicate things, so you’ll pay them more attention.

No one has satisfactorily hypothesised as to how Kingi came to endorse Haumaha for these things so, in service to my nation, I will.

The way LinkedIn endorsements work is that you first need to list something as a skill on your profile in order for someone else to endorse you for it. LinkedIn sends you 875 emails a day reminding to do things like “list your skills” and at some point you just get fed up and do it because knowing how to unsubscribe from the 30 different types of emails LinkedIn can send you requires a master’s degree and at least three years studying the Egyptian Labyrinth. LinkedIn, like Facebook and Twitter, does this to get you to keep coming back because they make a lot of their money selling your eyeballs and data to advertisers.

So at some point, Haumaha likely received one of these emails suggesting he was good at “firearms” and “security” based on what the robots at LinkedIn knew about him and probably just went “yes, OK, fine” and added to his profile. This happens in the click of a button or on a phone, possibly in a thumb fumble.

Kingi possibly then either logged into LinkedIn one day and was served a message saying, “Would you like to endorse Wally for firearms, leadership, getting up each day plus 23 other things?” The way that is served to you means you literally don’t read what the other skills are before hitting, “yes, OK, fine” because you’ve lost the will to live. If you haven’t figured out the aforementioned labyrinth to turn off the emails and notifications, LinkedIn will keep reminding you and asking this question until you submit.

If, like most people with actual jobs and high level things to do, you’re too busy to deal with this mounting spam (think the owls delivering letters to the Dursley’s in Harry Potter), sometimes your PA will deal with these emails. Or, because you’re busy doing literally anything else and you haven’t had time to acquire your LinkedIn PhD, you just do the stuff you’re being asked to do because why not?

Essentially, LinkedIn endorsements are basically the equivalent of poking someone on Facebook. Remember poking? Every time you logged into Facebook, you’d be asked if you wanted to poke someone. Poke, poke, poke, poke, poke, poke, poke we all went. We just went round poking people for about a year. There wasn’t much else to do there except update your 75 friends about having had lunch and feeling contemplative about it. There were no pictures or videos or election interference to engage with. So we poked each other.

These endorsements are utterly meaningless and everyone should stop doing them. Not just because it could be career damaging but because it is really stupid. LinkedIn isn’t totally dumb. It can actually be super useful but like all our social media super friends, it is full of traps for young players and a ridiculous amount of time wasting, totally inconsequential stuff which can largely be ignored.

My single piece of advice to people on using LinkedIn is: don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in real life. If you wouldn’t naturally tell a friend or colleague that they’re good at “amplifying influence events” ( another gem I’ve been endorsed for), don’t do it on LinkedIn, no matter how many times they try and trick you into it.

There may be other factors at play in terms of Kingi’s relationship with Haumaha and her suitably to head the inquiry. The scalp Bishop has claimed might be a legitimate and fair prize. However, if it’s just because of poking someone 23 times on professional Facebook, then that’s a real bloody shame and perhaps just serves to showcase the dirty and cynical game of politics at its absolute worst.

If it turns out Kingi’s LinkedIn endorsements of Haumaha are truly the only factor at play here, we have set a shitty precedent for what people can be held to account for and I’ll be holding out on endorsing a bunch of people for “understanding how the internet works” for some time yet while happily endorsing them “spurious motives” and “exploitation for political gain”.

Anna Connell is actually qualified to talk about this as a digital and social strategist and creative. Please feel free to endorse her on LinkedIn for good writing

Related:


The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.