Anna Rihtar quit her job after her boss allegedly sexually assaulted her, but her struggle to rebuild her career was just beginning. Shortly after she left the office for good, Rihtar’s boss started stalking her on social media. In a petition on Change.org, she is now urging LinkedIn executives to make it easier for members to block other people on the professional networking site. Her story is not unique, and SocialTimes has learned that LinkedIn engineers may already have a solution in the works.
Rihtar could use her privacy settings to stop her stalker from reaching her on Twitter and Facebook, but she found that LinkedIn’s policies were different from those of the other networks. “Having written to LinkedIn customer service about blocking a user,” she explained in her petition, “I was told I was only able to block a member if that member is prohibited from having a LinkedIn account by virtue of a court order.”
LinkedIn director of corporate communications Hani Durzy described the company’s privacy settings as follows:
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. 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 efforts are focused on giving our members these detailed controls over their professional identities and LinkedIn activities.
Durzy did not comment on whether LinkedIn’s privacy controls would one day extend to individual users as well as entire groups of people. He said, “We do not at this time offer a Block feature,” and left it at that.
After speaking with LinkedIn, SocialTimes got a tip that a few LinkedIn engineers who agree that a blocking feature is needed may already be working on it, as is outlined in this description of an entry for LinkedIn’s company-sponsored “HackDay” that was posted as a project on LinkedIn in December 2012:
LinkedIn is the only big social network left where you cannot completely block a member from looking at your profile. Having a stalker is a real thing, and we have no ability to allow members to block their stalkers. It’s unnerving to see in your email or profile sidebar: “[Your stalker] has viewed your profile.” Or maybe you have a headhunter that won’t leave you alone and is really adamant that you’re ruining your career by not responding to him. This hack fixes this problem, and lets you block members who are being unprofessional in a professional social network.
In case the evidence of the “No Mo’ Stalk[in]” hack is removed from LinkedIn, we have the screenshot below:
Rihtar described a worse scenario in her Change.org petition. Although she ignored her former employer’s attempts to contact her by phone and email, she could tell by LinkedIn’s “who’s viewed your profile” feature that even when the man wasn’t reaching out to her directly, he was still watching her online.
“It really started hitting close to home when he started researching my new connections to see where they where located; if they were in a different area in which I worked for him, he would e-mail me to see if I moved and what I was doing,” she wrote in her petition. “Little things like that started getting me really scared.”
Rihtar, who now works as a sales assistant in the Columbus area of Ohio, has hidden her current job details on her profile, but she feels that she shouldn’t have to miss out on potential career opportunities by making herself invisible to people outside her network. ”One may argue we can delete our profile or slightly change our name,” Rihtar continued, but “I argue why should we have to sacrifice our networking opportunities for something that is neither our fault or something we are powerless against?”
She posed this same question in a discussion thread on LinkedIn, where some members asked if she had filed a restraining order against her former boss before turning to social media.
“Have you even thought about the fact that if I make him mad he might come after me (he knows where I live, I worked for him so he has my personal info) and harm me and my family? …putting out a police report really would probably be a light slap on the wrist,” Rihtar wrote in response. “If I didn’t make myself clear before, this man can easily see where I work if I post it on my LinkedIn.”
Rihtar added in a phone interview that as a young woman who was fresh out of college, she didn’t have the resources to pay for an attorney.
Other LinkedIn members pointed out that the networking site is not responsible for her stalker’s actions and suggested that she should do her networking somewhere else.
“The most important thing to anybody in the working world is networking and making connections with people,” Rihtar told SocialTimes. “LinkedIn is the best avenue for that right now.”
Rihtar’s petition on Change.org currently has 4,733 supporters, while her group on LinkedIn, the L.I. Privacy/Blocking Petition, has 26 members as of the time of this post.
Updated 4/30 at 8:28 ET to include a statement from Ms. Rihtar.