Anna Rihtar was scared. And angry. And unemployed.
Rihtar told me that, after she was sexually assaulted at work, she quit the job she loved to avoid her attacker. But he had other plans. The man phoned, emailed, and pursued her via her Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts. Like many of the 6.6 million people reportedly stalked in the United States each year, she changed her phone number. And the 24-year-old blocked her stalker's electronic messages of hate, flirtation, and anger.
She blocked him from all her social networks, except one: LinkedIn. That's because LinkedIn -- unlike Twitter, Facebook, and nearly every other social network -- doesn't allow members to block specific users from contacting or following them.
I saw that and said, "This is absolutely insane." I'm sure I'm not the only person out there who's had this problem. LinkedIn told me the only way to block someone was with a court order.
For 18 long months, her stalker continued to check her LinkedIn page, making her uncomfortable with the ongoing presence in her life. The stalker looked at her new connections, companies she'd checked out or followed, and other activity to find out where she might be working or living. "This was so drawn out. I felt defeated and beaten."
She could have anonymized her online profile. No doubt, you've seen those silhouette pictures that tell you next to nothing about members. But as a job hunter at the beginning of her career, Rihtar couldn't afford to limit the amount of data available to prospective employers, recruitment firms, or networking contacts.
I don't have a lot of job experience, so LinkedIn is very important. That's where everyone goes to network and look for employees and jobs. Just to stand out, I want to have all the opportunities everyone else does. People want as much help as they can get.
Having been stalked in person by an ex-boyfriend, I know you also don't want to give up everything in your life to avoid your attacker. You want to hold on to something.
From anger comes action
Rihtar wants to alter LinkedIn's policy to protect herself and other victims of stalking and cyberbullying. She started a petition to encourage the service provider to change its policy toward blocking. She had little expectation of success -- the petition garnered only 24 signatures in its first two weeks -- until Change.org reached out and gave her a far-reaching platform for her petition: "LinkedIn: Protect Your Users from Stalkers and Help Keep Victims Safe." Rihtar also formed a LinkedIn discussion group.
Hani Durzy, director of corporate communications at LinkedIn, told me via email in a response to questions about its policy:
LinkedIn offers a large number of granular settings that give our members total control over what's visible to their connections, their broader network, and others. We make it easy to disconnect from any existing connection. We enable members to control what activity on LinkedIn is visible, and to whom -- ranging from no one, to only their direct connections, to people within their network, to everyone on the platform. And we allow members to completely customize what parts of their public profile is visible through search engines, including making their public profile visible to no one at all, should they choose. Our current efforts are focused on giving our members these detailed controls over their professional identities and LinkedIn activities. We do not at this time offer a Block feature.
Surge of support
Rihtar is not alone, as shown by the discussions on LinkedIn's community pages. Several people have suggested that it would be easy for LinkedIn to offer a blocking feature. The concept seems popular with its users.
"I'm guessing that the majority of users would have at least one person or company that they would choose to block," Paul Holmes, a packaging and containers professional in the United Kingdom, said in one LinkedIn forum on the topic. "We do not necessarily want total anonymity nor to leave LinkedIn altogether."
Richard Vaughan, an attorney in Melbourne, Fla., said in that forum: "I cannot see why LI would fail to add this feature. A few lines of code and users are happy. It's not a matter of feasibility. It's a matter of the will to actually respond to a genuine user need."
So far, LinkedIn has not announced any plans to change its policy, though SocialTimes reported that some engineers may be working to address this issue.
Let's hope this is true, and that LinkedIn will take the power away from the stalker or bully and hand authority over your profile back where it belongs -- to the member.
— Alison Diana , ThinkerNet Editor, Internet Evolution