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LinkedIn Faces Flak for Censoring on Behalf of China

FILE - LinkedIn's global headquarters in Mountain View, California.

FILE - LinkedIn's global headquarters in Mountain View, California.

A major international social networking company is being criticized for assisting with China’s aggressive censorship of matters concerning the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests.

At the request of Chinese authorities, the professional connection site LinkedIn is removing content from member’s sites that reference the protests or their subsequent violent suppression.

The content, which can take the form of posts, messages or other comments, is being removed without the members’ permission.

When a VOA news report titled “Tens of Thousands Stage Tiananmen Anniversary Vigil in Hong Kong” was posted to a LinkedIn account, the user was informed shortly after of the takedown with the message “LinkedIn determined that recent public activity you posted (such as comments, items shared with your network, or activity in groups) contained content prohibited in China.”

Hani Durzy, director of corporate communications for LinkedIn told VOA by email that the firm strongly supports freedom of expression.

But, Durzy added, “it’s clear to us that in order to create value for our members in China and around the world, we will need to implement the Chinese government’s restrictions on content, when and to the extent required.”

“We will also continue to be transparent about how we conduct business in China and use multiple avenues to notify impacted members within China about our practices,” he said.

Some users have been openly critical of the policy.

The Wall Street Journal spoke with one user, Fergus Ryan, who had content removed regarding the arrest of artist Guo Jian, an associate of Ryan.

“I’m outraged by it,” Ryan told the Journal. “I think that LinkedIn needs to realize that in China, even more so than in other countries, when you want to talk about business, politics is unavoidable, they’re intertwined.”

There was initial confusion whether the content in question was actually being removed, or merely blocked for LinkedIn members specifically based in China.

That wasn’t initially made clear to LinkedIn user and Hong Kong-based publisher Andrew Work, CEO of New Work Media.

Initially, Work told VOA, LinkedIn informed him and a colleague that a column by Chris Yeung about Tiananmen “…had been removed. Later,” Work said, “another email came telling us it had been only blocked in China.”

LinkedIn estimates it has over 275 million members in 200 different nations.

In February of this year it expanded operations to China. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, writing in a blog post from that time, said that “as a condition for operating in the country, the government of China imposes censorship requirements on Internet platforms. LinkedIn strongly supports freedom of expression and fundamentally disagrees with government censorship."

But, Weiner added, “At the same time, we also believe that LinkedIn’s absence in China would deny Chinese professionals a means to connect with others on our global platform, thereby limiting the ability of individual Chinese citizens to pursue and realize the economic opportunities, dreams and rights most important to them,” he wrote.

China already aggressively blocks all of Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter, Blogspot and many other social networking sites based outside the country.

LinkedIn is not blocked at all in China, due in part to the cooperative agreement LinkedIn management arrived at with Chinese authorities.

Publisher Work said a LinkedIn representative is due to speak on Friday on the topic of “LinkedIn for Journalists.”

“Should be entertaining,” Work said.
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    Doug Bernard

    Doug Bernard covers cyber-issues for VOA, focusing on Internet privacy, security and censorship circumvention. Previously he edited VOA’s “Digital Frontiers” blog, produced the “Daily Download” webcast and hosted “Talk to America”, for which he won the International Presenter of the Year award from the Association for International Broadcasting. He began his career at Michigan Public Radio, and has contributed to "The New York Times," the "Christian Science Monitor," SPIN and NPR, among others. You can follow him @dfrontiers.

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