The ‘crying CEO’ fired two people, then posted a crying selfie on LinkedIn. No wonder the backlash was swift | Arwa Mahdawi

BRaden Wallake had a tough choice to make. The 32 year old player The CEO of HyperSocial, a marketing agency, had just laid off two of his 17 employees and had to choose between quietly helping the two newly unemployed people move on with their lives and turning their unhappiness into self-aggrandizing online content.

You guessed it: Wallake chose the second option. You see, no one really thinks about the feelings of CEOs. Wallake wanted everyone to know that CEOs are human too. They hurt themselves and feel pain like mere mortals do. So he took a selfie of himself crying and posted it on LinkedIn, along with an inspirational message about what a great guy he was.

“This will be the most vulnerable thing I will ever share,” he wrote. “On days like today, I wish I was a business owner who was only driven by money and didn’t care who he hurt along the way. But I am not. So I just want people to see that not all CEOs are cold-hearted and care about firing people. Then he clicked “post” and sat back to watch the likes roll in.

A good number of likes arrived – but not at the same rate as the backlash. Rather than being floored by how “vulnerable” Wallake had been, the consensus seemed to be that the guy was a deaf narcissist. The post went viral and the “crying CEO” quickly became a meme.

Internet sleuths began sleuthing Wallake’s online story and discovered that he donated to World Wildlife Fund in July to financially support a sea otter. It would be a good thing to do in normal circumstances, but it doesn’t go so well if you’re the villain of the internet of the day.

“Maybe it’s not a good idea to adopt a sea lion [sic] at the start of a recession? one person scolded in Wallake’s comments. During this time, the media began to take an interest in it; Wallake’s crying selfie has been picked up by The Washington Post, New York Post, Fast Company and more.

People make fun of themselves every day on the internet. The reason this particular piece of content has garnered so much attention is because Wallake’s performative empathy neatly encapsulates everything irritating about LinkedIn and, by extension, everything wrong with company culture.

LinkedIn was once a convenient but uninspiring online Rolodex. In recent years, however, it has become a cesspool of toxic positivity and a cringe-worthy temple. There’s a subreddit called LinkedInLunatics that lists “Insufferable LinkedIn Content.”

It is no longer enough for people to be CEOs, entrepreneurs or middle managers; they must also be inspiring opinion leaders. LinkedIn is now a self-help blogging platform for business types. By the way, they all seem unable to write properly, instead using single-sentence paragraphs. This form of writing has been called “broetry” – and it’s brirritating brery.

In the middle of all the cringe, there’s a silver lining. Once upon a time there was a man who was ruthlessly mocked for crying in public. Wallake, however, has been mocked primarily for the performative nature of his crying, rather than the crying itself.

It has become much more acceptable for men to express their emotions in public. Indeed, crying seems to be all the rage among male leaders — a quick way to express authenticity and prove that you’re not an insensitive robot.

Andrew Cuomo, the former Governor of New York, shed tears during some of his daily Covid briefings. Just like Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles. Matt Hancock, the UK health secretary when Covid emerged, was brought to (fake) tears on TV after the vaccine was introduced. Malcolm Gladwell shed tears this month when he told a podcast host how awful it was that people were still working from home.

So what is the moral of this story? Well, LinkedIn style, I’m going to give you a list of three key learnings.

1 Crying is cool now.

2 LinkedIn is unbearable.

3 Don’t adopt a sea otter at the start of a recession.

Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist

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