LinkedIn Town Hall on Racial Inequality Takes a Wrong Turn Due to Anonymous Comments

CEO Ryan Roslansky issued a quick response

Will things be awkward when LinkedIn employees return to offices like this one in San Francisco? Andrei Stanescu/iStock

LinkedIn held a town-hall meeting via videoconferencing platform BlueJeans earlier this week to address racial inequity, but its decision to allow anonymous questions from employees backfired in a big way.

Comments from the town hall were shared with Maxwell Tani of The Daily Beast, prompting a quick response in the professional network’s Pulse section from CEO Ryan Roslansky.

Roslansky said in his email to employees, which he shared via LinkedIn Pulse, “Those of us in presenter mode weren’t able to track the comments in real-time—I am very sorry, and that won’t happen again. Also, we offered the ability to ask questions anonymously with the intention of creating a safe space for all. Unfortunately, that made it possible to add offensive comments without accountability. We require members on our platform to have real identities and we will not allow anonymous questions in all-hands meetings in the future. I said it in the company group yesterday, and I will say it again: We are not and will not be a company or platform where racism or hateful speech is allowed.”

Comments during the question-and-answer part of the town hall that drew the ire of LinkedIn employees included:

  • “It is not solely a ‘white’ problem to solve. ‘Blacks’ have a responsibility to help the whites be able to help them. More Blacks are killed by Black males than by white cops. Why is this? I am very familiar with the disadvantages of modern society that Black people have just because of the color of their skin, especially in the U.S., it is a travesty. But the travesty cannot be used as an excuse to continue to be a victim. The Black community still has a way to go to find peace within itself, none of this gang or territorial nonsense, fix the reputation that a few bad apples cause to the group as a whole.”
  • “As a non-minority, all this talk makes me feel like I am supposed to feel guilty of my skin color. I feel like I should let someone less qualified fill my position. Is that OK? It appears that I am a prisoner of my birth. This is not what Martin Luther King Jr. would have wanted for anyone.”
  • “I believe giving any racial group privilege over others in a zero-sum game would not get any support by others. Any thoughts on hurting others while giving privileges with the rosy name called diversity?”
  • “(George Floyd’s) killers need to be tried according to law. But how can hiring more minorities into manager roles and C-suite positions address cop racism? I thought hiring at LinkedIn is based on merit alone.”
  • “Blacks kill Blacks at 50 times the rate that whites kill Blacks. Usually it is the result of gang violence in the inner city. Where is the outcry?”
  • “This tragic incident that happened to George Floyd happened exactly the same to Tony Timpa (white man) by Dallas cops in 2016, and no one seemed to care then. There was no outcry for justice in his case. Why? Should we not want justice for all?”

Tani also shared comments from employees at LinkedIn in reaction to those listed above:

  • “I do not feel safe working at this company in a place where I was already uncomfortable with the treatment I’ve received on my own team since I started. This is so sad.”
  • “There are some extremely offensive comments here that go completely against the spirit of what this is intended for. I am completely shocked by some of these racist comments from my fellow employees. I am thoroughly disgusted!”
  • “The racism at LinkedIn really came out in the Q&A section!”
  • “I think the anonymous Q&A platform may have been a mistake LMAO.”

Roslansky concluded, “What you will see in the coming weeks and months is my continued commitment—and the commitment of the leadership team—to putting action behind these words, to doing the hard work. For example, while only scratching the surface, I am encouraged to already see the positive feedback from the free learning path we launched this morning for our members and customers. And I know this is only the beginning of how we’ll use our platform to make a meaningful difference moving forward. I can’t do it without you, and I will do everything in my power to create the company where you feel you can bring your whole and best self to work every day to help us create a more fair and equitable future.” David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.