When LinkedIn (NYSE:LKED), the popular career-oriented social network, launched a localized beta site for mainland Chinese users earlier this year, the company made it clear that it would adhere to the country’s strict policies regarding the suppression of politically sensitive content. Now LinkedIn is acting on its promise, as users both inside and outside mainland China have reported that posts about the 25th anniversary of the so-called June 4th incident at Tiananmen Square have been removed.
Earlier today, Business Spectator’s Fergus Ryan reported that after he shared an English-language piece on the detainment of artist-activist Guo Jian from his home in Beijing, he received a notice from LinkedIn informing him “the content will not be seen by LinkedIn members.”
Patrick Poon, a Hong Kong-based PhD candidate and activist, claimed to receive the same message from LinkedIn after sharing a video from Amnesty International – an organization which has no presence in China. He later received a follow up message clarifying that the content in question will be visible to all users except for those located in the People’s Republic of China.
— patrickpoon潘嘉偉 (@patrickpoon) June 4, 2014
In theory, assuming that Work and Poon were posting on an international variant of LinkedIn and not linkedin.cn, their content should not be subject to censorship because Hong Kong remains unaffected by the Great Firewall and mainland censorship practices. Linkedin told the Daily Beast that the incidents were accidents.
For what it’s worth, earlier today this writer registered an account in Linkedin.cn (signing up as a user residing in mainland China, albeit from his home in Taipei) and shared three politically sensitive articles, two in Chinese, and one in English from CNN. LinkedIn has yet to remove the posts, but then again, the account has an extremely small network of connections.
LinkedIn’s beta launch in China, along with its appointment of Derek Shen as president of its domestic operations there, made it one of the few high-profile, US-based social networks to go boldly forth into the Middle Kingdom. Twitter and Facebook – which are both blocked in the country – have each paid lip service to China’s market potential, yet neither has announced plans to launch a localized, consumer-facing product for the country’s 2 billion citizens. That’s likely because Sina Weibo and Tencent’s WeChat (known domestically as Weixin) already dominate China’s social media environment, but the headaches that accompany issues surrounding censorship certainly have also led the firms to pause before jumping.
LinkedIn has always existed in the realm of white-collar career networking – not exactly the best arena for airing political causes. In a blog post announcing its arrival in China, CEO Jeff Weiner wrote: “LinkedIn strongly supports freedom of expression and fundamentally disagrees with government censorship. 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.”
UPDATE: Tech in Asia received the following statement from LinkedIn regarding the matter of censorship:
LinkedIn’s goal in China is to connect Chinese professionals with each other and with our more than 300 million existing members globally, so they can create economic opportunities for one another. We’ve long recognized that offering a localized version of LinkedIn in China would likely mean adherence to censorship requirements of the Chinese government on Internet platforms. These requirements have just recently gone into effect.
We are strongly in support of freedom of expression. But, as we said at the time of our launch in February, 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.
A LinkedIn spokesperson also clarified that if an international user posts content that’s restricted in China, it will remain accessible to all users except for those within China. Meanwhile, if a Chinese user attempts to send out restricted content from the country, it will remain inaccessible to all users, regardless of where they reside. LinkedIn states that this latter policy is to protect the privacy of the user who posted the content.