I'm Pretty Sure I Broke Linkedin
Satire makes for an excellent IQ test.
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The third season of popular British sci-fi show Black Mirror opens with a dystopic episode, Nosedive, that takes place in a world controlled by social ratings.
The episode begins with our protagonist, Lacie Poundstone (seen above), seeking to raise her score from a 4.2 to a 4.5 to qualify for a discount on a luxury apartment. Lacie uploads a picture of Mr. Rags, a doll that she and her best friend Naomi had made when they were children, to social media to drive some upvotes.
Naomi, who boasts a 4.8 rating, gives the photo five stars before calling Lacie to invite her to be the maid of honor at her wedding.
Delighted, Lacie books her flight and makes preparations to head to the wedding.
On the day of the flight, several mishaps cause people to rate Lacie negatively, dropping her rating below 4.2. She finally arrives at the airport to find her flight cancelled, and she is unable to book a new flight with her now-reduced score. Lacie causes a scene at the airport, leading security to knock her score down even further.
Now unable to rent a functioning car, Lacie is forced to hitchhike with Susan, a truck driver with a 1.4 rating and not a care in the world. Susan had become disenchanted by the entire rating system after her husband had been denied cancer treatment due to his score, and she was relieved to be free from the social score scheme.
As Lacie nears the wedding venue, Naomi calls and tells her not to attend, as Lacie's reduced score would impact Naomi and everyone else at the wedding. Lacie manages to sneak in through a back door, and she stops the show to give an unhinged speech on stage.
Other guests, appalled at this interruption, downvote Lacie until her rating falls below 1.0, and she is arrested and taken to prison. The episode ends with Lacie in a prison cell, gleefully hurling insults back and forth with her cell mate, finally free from society's shackles.
Every social network has its own niche.
Facebook is an online water cooler for 50-somethings to argue about politics. Instagram is a photo-sharing platform for users to flex their luxurious lifestyles on their followers. Twitter is a vortex of opinions where hedge fund managers argue with anonymous meme accounts and sitting US presidents refer to foreign dictators as "Rocket Man". TikTok is the origin point for every viral video that eventually makes its way to the far corners of the internet.
And then you have Linkedin.
For the uninitiated, Linkedin is a social network optimized toward professional connections. According to the company's "about" page, their mission is to "Connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful."
By offering a variety of career-oriented services to its 850 million active users, Linkedin has certainly made good on its promise.
Corporate recruiters use Linkedin to scout for talent, networking wizards make cold intros via direct messages, and every user's account is a living, breathing resume available to the world 24/7.
Linkedin is clean, refined, white-collar. No profile picture is complete without a coat and tie, and no job update is complete without 17 "Congratulations and good luck with your future endeavors!" comments.
Everyone's companies, schools, coworkers, and bosses are on Linkedin, making it the only *truly* professional social network. And this environment of professionalism has created a code by which people communicate on the platform.
All social platforms have their untruths. On Instagram, for example, users tend to show off their highlights while hiding the more "regular" aspects of their lives to make themselves look more exciting.
On Linkedin, people adjust their posts to fall in line with the overarching professionalism of the site. Linkedin is basically an 850 million-person facade of lackluster congratulations and "humbled and honored" job updates that lack both humility and honor.
No one dares break character though. Any deviation from the norm could be seen as a red flag, an attempt to separate oneself from the homeostasis of professionalism and corporate jargon.
Linkedin is a platform of conformity, and if it was real life, it would resemble the Black Mirror episode discussed above.
To be honest, I don't really care if Linkedin lacks personality. It's a website for connecting with other professionals. It's whatever. What I do find annoying is the amount of "hustle culture" and "humble brag" content that plagues the site today.
No matter the platform, some users will do anything for engagement. On Linkedin, it isn't appropriate to post banger memes or sunset photos from that trip to Mykonos that ~totally changed your life~, so engagement-hungry users have resorted to other tactics.
Some users overload their profiles with a million different acronyms to signal an air of importance, and others take two Harvard X courses before adding "Harvard Business School" to their education.
Some users want to be sigma-grindset gurus that tell you you'll be poor if you don't have a side-hustle, and others want the world to know that they care about their jobs WAY MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE.
This desire for engagement on a platform where you have to maintain the appearance of professionalism leads to some pretty wild content.
We have the sensei of three-letter finance designations:
The LinkedIn final boss
— LinkedinFlex (Parody) (@LinkedinFlex)
Oct 7, 2022
The 100% fake stories that straight up never happened:
This 100% happened
— The State of LinkedIn (@StateOfLinkedIn)
Oct 24, 2022
And CEOs who post pictures of themselves crying after laying off employees:
Peak cringe content.
As you probably know since you are reading this right now, I write a blog for a living. When you write a blog for a living, you want a lot of people to read your blog. And the most effective way to find new readers is through social media platforms.
Different social media sites work well for different content creators. If you write, the two best platforms for distributing your work are Twitter and Linkedin. The reason why is simple: both platforms support written-form content.
I have been very active on Twitter over the last year, and the blue bird app has helped me grow an audience, build a network of other creators, and, surprisingly, make a lot of friends along the way. Twitter is awesome.
But from a pure content distribution standpoint, Linkedin is far superior to Twitter.
Considering that I could literally repurpose the same content between Linkedin and Twitter, getting more active on Linkedin was a no-brainer.
The problem with Linkedin is that the content is so, so cringe.
Don't get me wrong, Twitter has its own problem with engagement-thirsty users. People figured out which "hooks" and "threads" perform the best with the Twitter algorithm, and they milk the algorithm with unoriginal content like "10 websites that are so good they should be illegal to know", and random productivity hacks and mental models.
Pretty wild that someone rebranded "thinking" as "mental models", but here we are.
But with Twitter, the cringe content makes up a minority of posts. The majority of content is breaking news stories, ridiculous memes, and interesting conversations between users.
Linkedin is like Twitter if every single post was the cringe stuff.
If you write cringe content on Twitter, or post cringe videos on Instagram or TikTok, you'll get clowned in the comment section. The internet is a meritocracy, and if your stuff is weak, you deserve to know.
But on Linkedin, because the platform is so professional, no one is going to comment and say, "Actually Joey, this post is literally a lie. None of the stuff that you wrote about even happened," because no one wants to be seen posting negative or derogatory content on a professional site.
So some people support the cringe stuff and upvote it, while the majority of users silently watch. It's a complete mismatch that favors fake thought leadership and sigma grindset posts.
Now back to me.
I wanted to build a larger Linkedin following because it is a great channel for growing a newsletter. The only content that seems to perform well on Linkedin is cringe content, as mentioned above.
I would rather swim across the Hudson in February than post cringe stuff to drive engagement.
But one day, it hit me. What if I lean into the cringe soooo hard that it becomes satirical? Make fun of the cringe by being even more cringe? Mock the "hustle culture" and "money tips" that plague Linkedin by pretending that some outlandish, egregiously bad ideas are genius.
Satire would give me a way to potentially grow an audience without selling my soul to the sigma grindset.
I started, as they say on Twitter, "shitposting" on Linkedin. Terrible personal finance hack? You got it.
Absurd six-figure side hustle? Absolutely.
Now, any reasonable person seeing these posts would think, "Haha that's funny! He's making fun of the annoying stuff that's on Linkedin 24/7."
And some people, knowing that it's a joke, comment in Linkedin-style banter to play along. "Wow! I have doubled my income thanks to your advice!" "No way, I need to try this myself."
What I didn't realize before posting, is that a minority of readers would completely miss the satire involved, and they would take these posts seriously. Because Linkedin, for the most part, lacks satirical content, a minority of users take everything on the site at face value.
So they see something like this and initially think, "Wow, this is terrible, fraudulent, and/or dangerous."
And then they see that something like this got 1,000+ likes, and they get angry that so many people would have the audacity to support an individual who stole taxpayer money by getting vaccinated 1,000 times in 16 days! Never stopping to think, "Maybe I'm missing something here," they impulsively comment to express their righteous indignation.
This, of course, makes the entire experience even funnier because it quickly becomes an inside joke that 100,000 people understand, and a few angry folks don't.
There is a subculture on Twitter where people love to dunk on bad Linkedin posts. Several accounts such as The State of Linkedin and LinkedinFlex literally only exist to post screenshots of the most egregious violators.
So I posted a screenshot of my "wealth hacks" and "side hustles" as a joke.
gm from Linkedin
— Jack Raines (@Jack_Raines)
Oct 22, 2022
Poe's law is an adage of Internet culture saying that, without a clear indicator of the author's intent, every parody of extreme views can be mistaken by some readers for a sincere expression of the views being parodied.
10 million impressions later, and BOY OH BOY IS POE'S LAW CORRECT:
Let's think this through logically:
One, it's logistically impossible to get vaccinated 63 times a day for 16 days. Ignoring the fact that it would probably kill me, how would I even have enough time to do that?
And if anyone has actually stayed in a hotel before, you would know that the restaurants typically require a room number when you walk in. And even if they didn't, no one would actually brag about petty theft on Linkedin lol.
But of course, these folks and dozens of others didn't think that through. They think I'm out here stealing liquified eggs with a bloodstream that is 25% Johnson & Johnson.
Brent Beshore raised a good point about this entire phenomenon:
@Jack_Raines We're all desperate to feel something and matter, and moral outrage, condescension, and superiority unfortunately scratches that itch temporarily.
— Brent Beshore (@BrentBeshore)
Oct 26, 2022
"We're all desperate to feel something and matter, and moral outrage, condescension, and superiority unfortunately scratches that itch temporarily."
He's right. People express moral outrage because subconsciously they believe that berating others for their poor opinions and bad ideas will make themselves feel superior and appear admirable.
"Look at me, I took initiative to call out this bad thing."
And this desire to feel superior often overrides all logic and rationality, leading to folks with Ivy League degrees and CFO titles getting frustrated on Linkedin at some kid's obviously satirical post about getting vaccinated 1,000 times.
The irony in this whole thing is that by expressing your moral outrage at a piece of obvious satire, you show your network that you are, in fact, someone who expresses moral outrage at obvious satire. A self-dunk, so to say.
Elon Musk once said, "Fate loves irony," and of course, this situation ended in the most ironic way possible when someone got so angry they actually contacted Columbia Business School to tell them that one of their students (me) has been stealing bacon from Marriotts around New York City for months.
Commenting on a social media post is one thing, but reaching out to my university is next level. Honestly, kudos to the commitment.
Unfortunately, I'm not the Bacon Bandit of Hell's Kitchen. But this has certainly been an interesting social experiment.
I would say, in general, that before flaunting one's sense of moral superiority on the internet, you should first make sure you actually understand what you're speaking out against. Even if you are right, you should probably just delete that comment anyway.
No one has ever seen someone arguing on the internet and thought, "Damn, I have to hire that dude." It usually just makes you look like a tool. (This advice applies to me as well).
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- Matt Levine's recent 40,000 word piece, The Crypto Story, is an absolute banger.
- High Yield Harry published an interesting article reflecting on the investing bubble of 2020 and 2021.