LinkedIn, the U.S.- based social media network owned by Microsoft Corp. that focuses on building networks among business professionals, shut down its China-focused job application on Wednesday, marking the end of an era for Western social media networks struggling to grab a share of the huge Chinese market.
The closure was not a surprise. InCareer, the Chinese app for LinkedIn, told users three months ago that "fierce competition and a challenging macroeconomic climate ... ultimately led us to the decision of discontinuing the service."
InCareer notified its users in China that "after August 9, we will delete all InCareer account data."
A woman who is a white-collar professional in Shanghai started using LinkedIn when she was studying in the U.S. a decade ago. Like all the users in China who communicated with VOA Mandarin, she asked that her name not be used to avoid attracting official attention.
She told VOA Mandarin via text she was disappointed the network was leaving China. "I became a user … before LinkedIn entered China. My experience on the platform has been wonderful. I found almost all my jobs on LinkedIn and I've made quite a few friends there too. I really hope one day it will come back to China."
She said she was unsurprised at the closing. "For many users, LinkedIn has two great advantages: its social media feature, and its attraction to many multinational companies. But LinkedIn has chopped off its social media feature in China, and many foreign companies' business are slowing down, resulting in a less active hiring. So it's a shame that LinkedIn is backing out of China, but I'm not surprised."
LinkedIn was founded in 2002 and officially launched on May 5, 2003, according to its website, which says LinkedIn is the world's largest workplace socialization platform, employing about 20,000 people worldwide.
It listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2011 and is headquartered in Sunnyvale, a city in the heart of California's Silicon Valley. LinkedIn officially entered China in 2014 with a localized version and attracted more than 4 million members that year.
As of May 2023, the total number of LinkedIn members worldwide was more than 900 million, covering more than 200 countries and regions, of which the total number of members in China has exceeded 60 million, according to the company's website.
One private business owner in Beijing whom VOA Mandarin spoke to started using LinkedIn in 2013. "I thought it was a great place to find senior managers or professionals with great abilities," he said. "For example, if I see a senior manager from a prestigious consulting company, and if he lets me add him as a contact, I could talk about job opportunities with him. This social function is the key for LinkedIn."
"I've been on LinkedIn for over 10 years", another white-collar user in Shanghai told VOA Mandarin: "I found it by chance when I was in college, and thought I'd look more professional by having a LinkedIn account. At that time, LinkedIn hadn't officially entered China yet, but the Chinese students who had better knowledge of Western culture thought it was cool to be on that platform."
LinkedIn ended the "social media feature" seven years after the company entered China. In a letter to all Chinese users in October 2021, LinkedIn's second president in China, Jian Lu, announced that "LinkedIn will not provide function of user generated original content and interactions between users."
That announcement revealed the struggle LinkedIn had had in complying with China's strict censorship in the country.
Eyck Freymann was surprised to get a notice from LinkedIn in June 2021, when he was an Oxford University doctoral student, telling him his account had been blocked in China, according to the Wall Street Journal. He was informed his profile contained "prohibited" content.
Freymann, who turned down a VOA request for an interview, wasn't given more details, but the Journal reported it was because he had included the words "Tiananmen Square massacre" in the LinkedIn entry for his two-year stint as a research assistant for a book in 2015.
In September 2014, Rob Schmitz, a Shanghai-based reporter for the U.S. media outlet Marketplace, said LinkedIn deleted his post on the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
In March 2021, a New York Times article reported that China's internet regulator rebuked LinkedIn executives for failing to control political content. In punishment, officials required LinkedIn to perform a self-evaluation and offer a report to the regulator. The report added that LinkedIn's service was forced to suspend signing up new users inside China for 30 days.
According to a transparency report published by LinkedIn in 2022, the company received 43 requests from the Chinese government to remove content in 2021. LinkedIn complied with 42 of those requests. The report did not explain why the company did not comply with the one remaining request.
The private business owner in Beijing thinks that a LinkedIn without its social media feature was in no position to compete with domestic Chinese apps. "There're so many local job seeking networks in China with better features and are much more popular. Just like Google, LinkedIn's exit is a result of Internet content censorship in China."