Is LinkedIn in its Gen Z era?

Has LinkedIn deduced to being a mouthpiece of the privileged, an advocate of workplace toxicity, and a narcissist’s heaven? Whatever it is, Gen Z gets the ick from this corporate networking site.

A claw machine grabs a LinkedIn icon out of a sea of app icons.

I received some eye rolls, heavy sighs, and a languid nod when I asked my study group, comprised of twenty-something college students how LinkedIn had been treating them so far.

“It feels like being forced into a room filled with middle-aged white men talking about things that don’t excite me, using words that don’t come naturally to me, who are competing in a race I don’t want to be in!” raged Khushi (23), who is currently looking for PR and marketing jobs on the platform.

Shreya (22), was relieved to find someone who shared the same frustration.

“People use heavy jargon to ‘announce’ every milestone, and these milestones are either achievements or stepping stones for them to preach,” she chimed.

It’s apparent the humble bragging boomers on LinkedIn give major ‘can’t relate’ vibes to Gen Z, a generation that bonds through self-deprecatory humor, and that disconnect is showcased by the figures.

According to Statista’s global 2022 report, nearly 60% of LinkedIn users are between the ages of 25-34. The 18 to 24 age group makes up only 20.4% of the network’s user base. This age imbalance is evident from the nature of posts on the platform. While Gen Z-dominated sites reflect either a sarcastic or self-deprecatory tone, Linkedin is known to exhibit toxic positivity and promotes a capitalistic notion of success. As a Digital Social Media student (yes, it is an actual degree), we have heavily discussed how pretentious all these networking apps can be. But why is only LinkedIn met with such an ‘ick’?

I believe the reason is manifested in the foundation of these networking platforms. Platforms like Instagram and Facebook work to let you be whatever you want to be. You can blatantly hide behind the armor of filters, phony usernames, fan accounts, and ‘finstas’ to express your chosen self. On the other hand, our LinkedIn profiles are verified accounts that need to accurately display our personal details like age, gender, date of birth, tenure of our last job, years taken to complete the degree, and so on, which box our life journeys into achievements or shame. It also puts these labels on public display so that others may determine whether we are fit to run the corporate machine — a verdict that has consequences on our livelihood.

DESCRIBE THE IMAGE FOR ACCESSIBILITY, EXAMPLE: Photo of a chef putting red sauce onto an omelette.

When compared to its dystopian counterpart, also known as Twitter, LinkedIn feels like an antithetical response. Everyone on LinkedIn is constantly ‘elated.’ Scores of posts begin with “I’m delighted/excited/happy/thrilled to announce,” phrases that seem to only exist on the platform. The site has little to no opposing views, and the world is a sea filled with opportunities.

When there are ‘opposing’ views, they are curated to yes-man an ulterior Foucauldian invisible corporate power structure. LinkedIn becomes the simulacrum of everything wrong with capitalist hustle culture. Do you really want me to reward you for giving a woman a maternity leave (something mandated by law), or a pat on the back for not screaming at the intern who messed up at job, or giving food to a homeless man on your way to a meeting? Each of these acts are commonly discussed on the platform and boasted about. The site has almost devolved into a race to reach the bare minimum benchmark.

Yet, are we shooting the messenger? Especially when the real culprit is capitalism? Well, no. Not when the messenger is an enabler!

What excited people about the emergence of social media was its subverting of old structures and the redistribution of voice. What angers youth is the flourishing existence of a platform that not only mirrors but celebrates toxic traditions like hustling, overworking, and brown-nosing. The generational gap in thought around these notions becomes very evident on this network. The worldview around work culture and capitalism has changed over the years but LinkedIn has unfortunately not been able to keep up with this evolution.

Do you really want me to reward you for giving a woman a maternity leave, or a pat on the back for not screaming at the intern who messed up at job, or giving food to a homeless man on your way to a meeting? The site has almost devolved into a race to reach the bare minimum benchmark.

As an international student, I am wary of how my ‘non-resident alien’ status is considered a burden by employers in America. Companies like to stay away from candidates wrapped in red tape. On top of that, when recruiters view my Linkedin profile to put a name on my face, I know they may easily put a race to my face. My name sounds brown, and my profile screams it. There’s a reason why putting your photo on your CV in the US is inadvisable. It exposes apprehensions regarding implicit biases, and Linkedin conveniently surpasses all these courtesies.

It was interesting how the tone changed when I spoke about this with people over 25.

“Why shouldn’t we boast our achievements after all?” exclaimed Richie (28), an LA-based marketer who found her current job through LinkedIn. “More than boasting, LinkedIn is about showcasing our achievements and leveraging those to make new connections. It helped me interact with recruiters who are usually hard to find!”

Stuti (25), a research student at USC, spoke about how after the changing ownership and drama that unfolded on Musk’s Twitter, LinkedIn became the place for academics to find like-minded people and have an intellectual discourse. She says she keeps her personal opinions aside when networking with these connections as they could be her future employers or guides.

While the defenses seem justified, they don’t outweigh LinkedIn’s many flaws, one of which was discussed profusely after the George Floyd case in the US.

Many Black Americans expressed how the platform stifled their posts calling out racism and white supremacy in workplaces.

“LinkedIn has shadowbanned me at least once. They never admit this, so it’s a type of gaslighting,” shared S. Anne Marrie, an HR consultant, on social media. “They allow a lot of racists to run rampant in the comments here, but when people of color, especially black women, comment about racism, they are swift to slap the virtual handcuffs and gags on.”

In 2021, New York Times Magazine highlighted more of these instances in an article about LinkedIn’s racial and algorithmic bias against Black people. “The social network’s tone has long reflected corporate America: staid, monolithic, white.”

The company responded to this article by apologizing for its oversight and reassuring users that all voices matter. #Metoo and #BLM were two movements that brought considerable change to workplaces, by exposing the innate misogyny and white domination. The effect has now trickled down to LinkedIn, wherein now people have started using their voices to bring such injustices to light.

Not all devils need advocates. Some need to be summoned by the Gen Z shade. There is no current alternative to the platform, so I will keep using thesaurus versions of hardworking to describe myself and my friends. I will control my chuckle when my friends’ ‘happy announcements’ about companies that took 5 months, 4 interview rounds, and his 3 mental breakdowns to get back to them, pop up. Workplaces are still battling their infestations like race domination, patriarchy, and nepotism. All we can do is hope that LinkedIn as a platform echoes this change.