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You’ve probably heard of Linked In. They are the number one business networking site on the web. For those of you unfamiliar with Linked In, anyone can create an online profile that is tantamount to a resume or portfolio. Whether you choose to have a free account or pay a monthly fee for some more bells and whistles, Linked In accords the opportunity to connect with others in your field, networking with both your industry peers and getting introduced to prospective customers. The object is new business contacts and maybe even new friends. How ironic that a company that was formed with the sole purpose of bringing business people together treats their own customers–their major source of revenue– with unmistakable, unveiled contempt. And, going by the complaints I’ve seen about them, sending many of them screaming into the night.
My world is dipped in art. To me, art is the sun, and I am one of the millions of little moons that traverse its orbit. I am both a licensed, professional artist and an owner of a custom tile company. When I am not designing art for major manufacturers who sell to retailers like Target and Bed Bath, I am designing art for custom glass, ceramic and stone tiles for my customers. And when I’m not doing that, I am creating digital art resources that other artists can use for their own work.
I chose one of my art pieces as my profile picture. After all, I wasn’t there to market my face, but my work–and it’s the very first thing you see on someone’s profile page. That’s why I was genuinely flummoxed when they removed my profile picture–a painting of a flower—repeatedly. A flower? Not exactly offensive. No Nazi propaganda or porn or racist imagery, just an innocent, painted pink peony. I thought there must have been some mistake or script burp, so I put it back a few times. Much prettier than the blank profile picture box with the ugly gray silhouette of what looks like an amorphous person’s head and shoulders. Linked In finally informed me that my profile picture violated their company terms. They insisted you have a picture of your face. Nothing else was allowed–even though I was paying them $25 a month for the privilege of owning a profile page. I was a paying customer, yet I was not allowed to determine what I wanted to represent my work, my image, my portfolio, my person. Even a person with a non-paid account should have the freedom to choose the profile image they want representing them.
Now–I know some companies have policies that are sometimes a bit nutty. Maybe a little overbearing. Like Etsy, who won’t let you link to another website or brand your own page–they want all the pages to look the same. Okay, that’s cool. But I couldn’t help but wonder about the logic behind this particular policy. What if I was a burn victim, and ashamed of facial scarring? What if I was camera shy? What if I had been stalked, and didn’t want my photograph online for privacy reasons? Out of curiosity, I looked around Linked In. Many people had objects or cats or logos or line drawings as their profile pictures. For some reason, they had decided to target me–and target me they did, with a vengeance. That pink peony must have offended them on a visceral level, because they then removed my ability to upload any profile picture at all.
I passionately argued my right to have my art representing my profile. I just re-read that last sentence and once again find myself shaking my head at the absurdity of this whole event. Yes, I was angry. I told them that this policy was draconian and absurd, and that there were many reasons someone would not want to post their picture online–from vanity to privacy. It’s not like I was anonymous on that page. My company name was listed, with address and phone number, as was the contact information of my licensing agent. So they couldn’t argue that this picture would ensure the prevention of anonymity. I was hardly anonymous. My profile and the information in it was easily verifiable. Bottom line? This policy is completely insane.
Linked In has no phone number, and no contact information. All they have is an email address that takes you to a so called customer service team who I picture as one half Deliverance, one half Stepford Wives. If I treated my customers like this, I wouldn’t have a contact phone number either. I can’t say I blame them for their own desire for anonymity. Oh, and, for the record: there are no pictures (and no names) of their company officers, their customer service team, their technical team. Anywhere. Gotta love the irony.
Corporate arrogance is alive and well at Linked In. This is a company who treats customers as you or I would squash the cockroaches that scuttle beneath our feet; if you don’t like their draconian rules, they’ll gleefully take away your privileges. To hell with customer service; they are the mighty Linked In and you are nothing.
Finally, after weeks of going back and forth with a robotic, disinterested customer service team, I began to wonder if anyone with a pulse was even reading what I was writing. They responded with all the warmth of a freezer-burned clump of chopped meat. Getting tired of the whole thing, I caved. I said, okay, you win. I will put my facial photo there. Since you removed my profile photo uploading privileges, I attached the photo to an email to customer service and asked them to do it for me.
It took them weeks to respond. They finally informed me that they refused to put my profile picture there. Further, they said, I had permanently lost the privilege of having any profile picture at all. I had decided to honor their policy but now they were outright venal–I was being punished for questioning their policy, evidently, because I was forever going to be forced to have a big, blank profile picture with a gray silhouette of what is supposed to look like an androgynous torso. No image at all. Forever. This went against their own stated policy of non-anonymity, and it defied even the most far-flung logic. I had dared to question them. So now I was being punished like a five year old child. And they were breaking their own stated policy in order to exact their vengeance on a customer who dared to question them. Who would have thought a pink peony would bring the Linked In Machine to their knees?
I closed my account.
A friend of mine asked me to reconsider. She asked me: if they were to meet you halfway, would you rejoin? She said something about having to “go along to get along.” I told her sometimes you have to stand for something, and that life isn’t worth living if you don’t. These people spit in my face. The only way I would even begin to entertain rejoining would require an apology and the freedom to put my pink peony back where it belongs. Now that’s not asking for very much.
I’m not holding my breath.