Be careful whom you recommend on LinkedIn

September 13, 2013: 2:43 PM ET
linkedin reccomend pax dickinson
In the wake of the public shaming of Pax Dickinson, it really does matter who you recommend on LinkedIn.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Whom you recommend on LinkedIn really does matter. If they screw up, your thumbs-up could come back to haunt you.

Take Pax Dickinson, who was forced to resign from Business Insider on Tuesday. He was the online publication's chief technology officer until Silicon Valley blog Valleywag drew attention to his caustic speech on Twitter and elsewhere.

His comments, which included rape jokes and enmity toward gender inequality in tech, led to a public outcry.

Standing in stark contrast, however, is Dickinson's professional LinkedIn page. On it are three glowing recommendations from former colleagues at different companies, which include statements like this: "Employers will not be disappointed with his work and determination."

The advertising executive who wrote that, Joseph Panzarella at New York firm JWT, stands by the assessment he made in 2010. Panzarella admits he would never utter the kinds of remarks that drew Dickinson so much criticism, but he sees the recommendation as a narrowly-defined endorsement.

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"My recommendation reflects his working ability," Panzarella said. "LinkedIn is a business forum. I would limit my commentary to his business acumen."

Related story: Sexist tweets cost Business Insider exec his job

But is it really that simple?

Not if you consider that your public online personas -- on Twitter, LinkedIn (LNKD) and elsewhere -- are as seamless and unified as you are in real life, said Bob Pearson, who advises people on such matters through his digital consulting firm, W2O Group.

"Everything is intertwined," Pearson said. "Whatever you say publicly builds a cumulative set of behaviors that leads to your reputation. You can't say one channel is separate."

The same transitive rules apply to endorsements, he said. Lending credibility to someone else -- especially in a professional setting -- shows a willingness to absorb their fame or notoriety by association.

"You are deciding to align your brand, your reputation, to that person's reputation," Pearson said.

Nematolah Kashanian, a software architect in New York, doesn't think his cheerful recommendation of Dickinson on LinkedIn will hurt him. In part, that's because he takes such endorsements lightly. But he also said Dickinson's abrasive speech is no surprise.

"If someone would call me and ask for a reference, as Business Insider did, I actually warn them," Kashanian said. "He's incredibly intelligent, but he has a mouth. And it's something you guys take with what you get."

Kashanian also noted that Dickinson never exhibited in person the disregard for women or feminism in tech that he displays online. Kashanian recalled one project they worked on together in which Dickinson teamed up well with the project manager -- a gay woman.

Still, Kashanian said Dickinson should have minded his executive-level position before making his comments online.

"He's in a certain position, and he should just tone it down a notch. If it was me, I wouldn't have done it," he said.

Dickinson isn't exactly helpless now, though. Since the ordeal, he's received waves of support online. He also launched an independent pro-privacy project, Glimpse, that promises image encryption.


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