LinkedIn Is Not Facebook

You’ll see it every few weeks on LinkedIn. Somebody somewhere is complaining that LinkedIn is not Facebook. They’re usually complaining about it on LinkedIn, and the comments on these posts bear an earie resemblance to social media platforms that are not LinkedIn.

Joshua Titsworth says that despite being founded in 2002, the site has gone through significant changes since that time,

The truth about LinkedIn is that despite its intended use, it has always been a form of social media… Given the relatively community-based origins of the site, it may seem strange to take issue with LinkedIn for becoming too social…

If LinkedIn has changed, it’s perhaps indicative of greater changes in modern professionals, and remaining up to speed on the interests of those professionals can lead you to discover new opportunities or reach new audiences more effectively.

The site was purchased by Microsoft in 2016, and reportedly produced $5.3 billion in revenue by 2018. However, this is still a fraction of the revenue produced by other leading social media platforms, and notably functions differently than these other sites. Josh Hermann says in the New York Times,

“You talk on LinkedIn the same way you talk in the office,” said Dan Roth, LinkedIn’s editor in chief. “There are certain boundaries around what is acceptable.” Criticism of other users’ posts, he said, tends to be measured — “there’s a certain range in the voice,” he said — and users will often make the platform’s numerous implicit norms explicit, when they feel it’s necessary. “If you read the comments,” said Mr. Roth, “when someone goes out of bounds, you have other members saying, ‘Hey, bring this back.’”

“This is something that your boss sees, your future boss, people you want to work with in the future,” Mr. Roth said. “It’s as close to your permanent record as you can get.”

In the context of social media, this may sound slightly menacing. In the context of the modern office, it’s perfectly familiar.

The site has been used extensively in litigation, in a wide variety of contexts.

It has been used to assess the duty to mitigate damages in the employment contexts, the alleged (but denied) basis for discrimination in human rights, juror misconduct due to independent research by looking up the accused’s profile, imputing income for child support, and discrepancies in evidence for citizenship applications. The site has itself been sued for alleged privacy breaches, including at least one class action.

LinkedIn has even been used by law societies, to prevent individuals from holding themselves out as lawyers. One recent interlocutory decision in Hamza v. Law Society of Ontario illustrates the hazards of using the site too informally and too unprofessionally. Both of those characterizations could even be described as mild.

The Applicant is a lawyer who was complained about to the law society. Somehow this dispute came before the court in an application, in Hamza v. Law Society of Ontario.

The facts are too bizarre to do anything but quote from the decision directly,

[5] By way of further background and context suggested by the filings provided to me, but with nothing set forth hereafter in this paragraph intended as a formal finding of fact binding on the parties:

(d) This litigation arises from various messages, responses and/or comments posted on the online “Linkedin” internet platform, in the fall of 2020. In that regard:

i. The relevant postings apparently began with one made by Mr Rocheleau, (who is currently practising as an associate lawyer with a Toronto law firm), on or about October 9, 2020. In that initial posting, Mr Rocheleau noted that the University of Ottawa Library was seeking content from women about their experiences of and during the COVID-19 pandemic, and encouraged participation in the project.

ii. Mr Hamza was one of the recipients of that initial Linkedin posting by Mr Rocheleau relating to the University of Ottawa Library project. Mr Hamza chose to respond by posting his own message on the same Linkedin platform, addressing the message posted by Mr Rocheleau.

iii. Mr Rocheleau in turn posted a further message to the Linkedin platform, noting Mr Hamza’s response to Mr Rocheleau’s earlier posting, and saying “Don’t be O.D. Hamza”. That posting clearly seems to have been shared with other users of the Linkedin platform.

iv. The messages posted by Mr Rocheleau and/or Mr Hamza prompted the posting of additional messages by other users of the Linkedin platform, with some responding to Mr Rocheleau, some apparently responding directly to Mr Hamza, and Mr Rocheleau and Mr Hamza responding directly to some of those other users who were posting messages in relation to the matter.

v. In the course of those various exchanges of messages posted to the Linkedin platform, Mr Hamza defended his views and made further comments that were critical of those who were criticizing him, and/or critical of their views.

vi. On or about October 13, 2020, Mr Rocheleau filed an online complaint with the LSO, expressing concern that Mr Hamza’s posted comments, (which apparently had received more than 3,000 views on the Linkedin platform), were racist and sexist. The material filed by Mr Rocheleau in this proceeding indicates that a number of the other respondents in this litigation may have filed similar complaints with the LSO about Mr Hamza’s conduct.

vii. The messages posted on the Linkedin platform and/or the resulting complaint or complaints made to the LSO clearly have caused Mr Hamza significant upset and concern; concern that prompted him to initiate this litigation by way of a notice of application…

Those are not the worst parts. You’ll have to read the decision to read those yourself. There was not enough evidence before the court on that decision, which then led to a subsequent hearing and a decision, released in April 2021.

This decision added further and additional inflammatory content posted on LinkedIn, but also stated the following,

[8] When the hearing began, the applicant was invited to make his submissions. He declined to do so, stating that he had filed over 1,000 pages of material and that said everything he needed to say. He did so at his peril. It is not the task of the respondents nor the court to sift through the applicant’s inappropriately voluminous and verbose documentation to see if there is some answer to the arguments presented by the respondents. It is the applicant’s responsibility to present his own case, and he refused to do so.

[9] I asked him for a clear and concise answer to this question: what was the rule or statutory authority he relied upon to bring this proceeding to court by way of a Notice of Application as opposed to a Statement of Claim? His response was “Rule 1, which requires flexibility by court”. I infer that he was referring to Rule 1.04(1) which requires the rules to be liberally construed to secure the just, most expeditious and least expensive determination of every civil proceeding on its merits.

[10] While the Rules are to be liberally construed, they are not to be ignored altogether. That is what the applicant has done here. Quite apart from the many procedural errors made by the applicant, as detailed in the two decisions of Leach J., the fundamental problem is that this case is not the proper subject-matter of a Notice of Application. 
Without repeating the inflammatory contents of the LinkedIn posts here, Justice Heeney reviewed the same and concluded,
[37] These claims can fairly be described as nonsense. They are untenable at law and have no chance of success.
[45] For the foregoing reasons, the application is dismissed as not being properly before the court. In the event I am in error in that ruling, I would have struck out the entirety of the materials filed by the applicant, pursuant to Rule 25.11, with prejudice and without leave to amend.

LinkedIn probably shouldn’t be used in the same way as Facebook. But it certainly shouldn’t be used like this.


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