The Great Un-Following: Why I Unfollowed Men on LinkedIn for Six Months

Ah, the modern age. The internet has not only connected all of us in a Wild West kinda new frontier style, but it’s also opened up the opportunity for the democratisation of content creation and proliferation. 

Call it what you will, but most of what people push out into the vast & unending universe online is akin to unlimited drivel. It’s chatter without reason. Chewing-gum for the ego & the brain. 

The world is awash with opinions right now. As an unshakeable optimist, I’d like to say there’s more good information being shared than bad or banal – but going by gut instinct (no data was harmed in the writing of this assertion) I imagine good content is at peak needle-in-a-haystack alert right now.

Our online world is oversaturated with opinionated people who shout at decibels that could puncture eardrums. Armchair warriors and keyboard enthusiasts with little real-world experience (if any, at times), tippity-type away on subjects that they may or may not know a single thing about.

With the onslaught of social media & the reigning court of our age being a handful of powerful algorithms, I thought I might try to break – or rather, retrain – an algorithm that I still feel an affinity towards in the hopes of becoming more wokethat I think I am. (NB I don’t think I’m all that woke at all, but that’s for another blog post.)

Over the course of the past six months, I’ve been undertaking a very small (sample size of one, ahem, moi) experiment on LinkedIn. This wee experiment is quite possibly the most intentional & focussed ongoing personal challenge I’ve undertaken on social media ever. Yep, ever. My reasons for sticking to the experiment started quite shallow if I’m honest – I simply was getting bored with the platform but saw enough of a tiny glimmer of amazing content amongst the shouting & chest beating that I thought I might be able to turn that glimmer into quite the shining blaze.

I also have to come clean about something. If we all took a ride in a Wayback Machine to some point in time about 9 years ago you’d have heard a younger me saying things like  “I don’t like LinkedIn at all. It’s just a bunch of people shouting about their CVs or looking for a job. There’s no substance.” But, like the tides of time, my stance on the platform has changed as it has changed.

Recently I have come to really enjoy LinkedIn. In fact, the words “favourite social media channel” and “LinkedIn” may or may not have been used in the same sentence many times together. Okay, not “may have” they have been. Right here & right now LinkedIn is really the only major social channel that seems to offer me any value when it comes to learning new things, understanding the business world in a wider sense, & not having to wade through what secondary connections ate for lunch last Tuesday. I mean, you take a good pic of sushi, friends – but I honestly don’t give a fig about it. 

You see, LinkedIn is smart. The folks behind the channel pivoted when they needed to. They evolved their channel without pummelling the platform. And, they have given us an algorithm that seems pretty fair right now – all things considering. The content I’m being served seems fair, focussed, but also allows for exploration without being ballsy in attempting to be way too contextual. Believe me, there’s a creepy side to contextuality sometimes. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of annoying bananas (this is what we call people who grind our proverbial gears at my house) who are only ever trying to toot their own horns, hack the algorithm (remember when spaces between lines of SHOUTY CAPS TEXT was a thing?), & are self-serving jerks who assume a connection means it’s time to sell, sell, sell. But, for the most part, Linked In is a cool space to while away some time whilst scrolling for clickable headlines.

So it was when I started finding myself a wee bit bored with LinkedIn that I realized why I was getting bored, most of the articles & thoughts being shared were those of men. White men, specifically. Now, don’t stop reading here & brand me a man-hating-so-and-so-feminist, I love the fellas for their minds. However I was really longing for more diverse world views, opinions, & topical discussions. 

Thus, my experiment was borne. From the moment I realized why LinkedIn was losing its lustre for me, I started unfollowing almost all of the dudes I’d been following who I didn’t know IRL. My hypothesis was simple: if I unfollow a truckload of guys that like to pontificate whom I don’t know, then I can retrain LinkedIn’s algorithm to serve me more female, LGBTQ, non-western voices & content. 

Fast-forward six months: I haz findings! 

Before I tell you what I found out, I should probably tell you what I thought would happen when I started unfollowing 99% of the men in my newsfeed. I thought that I’d start seeing more and more original content by women. I thought I’d start understanding women in business more in-depth. And, I thought that I’d see a lot more ideas bubbling to the surface in my industry in which I’d be able to network more widely with women who are making change happen.

But, these things didn’t eventuate. More & more I started to see posts by women in my newsfeed outnumber that of men. However, the content that 90% of the women were sharing was that of men. I was (& am still) floored by how hard it is to unearth original content made for, by, and about professional topics that originates from the minds & souls of women. I started to get pretty frustrated with the lack of content penned & shared by women, before taking a deep breath and remembering that, no matter how smart an algorithm or AI is, we cannot take away the human variables to the equation.

Society has told us for a long time that our thoughts aren’t welcome at the proverbial table. We hold our tongues when all we want to do is speak. We look to each other for confidence and sisterhood, but we have very few female role models in the public domain of whom we can learn from & share their stories. To say I was & am still disheartened by a lack of content by women would be an understatement. But, I’m heartened to know that more & more we are putting our voices into the public realm. We’re facing the potential for bruised male egos & the anger that comes alongside the bruising. 

I’d like to use this small experiment to ask all of us to do a few things when it comes to being super cognisant of what we’re sharing online – especially in public forums like LinkedIn. 

When & where you can, ladies, please write more, record more, podcast more, pontificate more, share your unique points of view & your wisdom with the world. Men & women alike deserve to learn from your experience. Women especially are longing for your voice.

Men, whenever you can, LIFT WOMEN. We need you. We really do. Give us space at the table & just as much space online. Also, when it comes to algorithms & re-training an AI system to share content more evenly across diverse people & opinions, why not share twice as many posts from women as men? We’re not even in the running of the race yet, let alone about to lap you or even tie for back of the pack. The more you share our ideas, the better society & LinkedIn can & will be. 

All in all, six months has taught me an important lesson:
We need to fix society before we start can hacking algorithms.

Keen to follow me on LinkedIn, click here.