LinkedIn blocks profiles from view in China if sensitive topics mentioned

Networking site tells users that references to Tiananmen Square, even as academic study, are prohibited content

LinkedIn is blocking profiles from being viewed inside China if they mention politically sensitive topics such as the Tiananmen Square massacre, including benign references to academic study.

In recent weeks, the professional networking site has written to several China analysts, alerting them to “prohibited content” on their profile pages.

It told Swedish writer and photographer Jojje Olsson via email that a reference in his education section meant his profile, comments and posts would “not be made viewable in China”.

Olsson said his education section included a one-line mention of his university thesis on the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

This is absolutely unbelievable - under "Education" on my LinkedIn profile, I mention in one line that my degree easy in modern Chinese history was written about the Tiananmen square massacre.

LinkedIn's response is to censor my entire profile for Chinese users.

— Jojje Olsson (@jojjeols) June 17, 2021

The LinkedIn email, which Olsson posted on Twitter, said the company would work with him “to minimise the impact and … review your profile’s accessibility within China if you update the education section of your profile”.

It said it was Olsson’s decision whether or not to update it.

“The censorship of my profile is not because of any posts or comments that I made, but because the topic of my degree essay over a decade ago,” Olsson told the Guardian.

“I believe LinkedIn is really reckless with its own credibility, when as a professional networking site it is censoring the academic background of its users.”

J Michael Cole, an academic, also revealed earlier this month his account was being removed from view in China over prohibited content in the publications section of his profile.

Cole, a senior fellow with the Global Taiwan Institute in Washington DC and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, said he suspected it was related to the listed titles of books he had authored or co-authored, which include How China Undermines Global Democracy; Cross-Strait Relations Since 2016: The End of the Illusion; and Convergence or Conflict in the Taiwan Strait.

Cole said he had not sought an explanation or reversal, and that LinkedIn’s offer to edit his profile to make it compliant was “a non-choice, and nothing less than an invitation to self-censor”.

“I do not know at this point whether this is self-initiated on the part of LinkedIn or the result of closer scrutiny on the part of the CCP [Chinese Communist party],” Cole said.

“Either way, this occurs in the context of an increasingly paranoid CCP that seems intent on further tightening its ability to control what people in China can see and access. In a time when the world should be seeking more dialogue, China is closing the door on that possibility.”

LinkedIn is one of the few western social media platforms allowed to operate inside China. The internet and tech companies are heavily regulated in the country and censorship is rife under increasingly authoritarian rule by Xi Jinping. The Tiananmen massacre and other topics that are particularly sensitive are censored from public knowledge.

When LinkedIn launched in China in 2014, the company said government-imposed censorship was a condition of operating. Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn’s chief executive, pledged to only implement government restrictions “when and to the extent required”, and that the company would be transparent about its business operations. That same year, LinkedIn faced criticism over censoring posts about the massacre.

In March, the New York Times reported on Chinese regulators punishing LinkedIn over alleged failures to control political content. The company was reportedly required to suspend new signups of Chinese users for 30 days and perform a self-evaluation.

At the time LinkedIn released a statement confirming it was temporarily pausing new signups while it worked “to ensure we remain in compliance with local law”.

“We’re a global platform with an obligation to respect the laws that apply to us, including adhering to Chinese government regulations for our localised version of LinkedIn in China,” it said.

LinkedIn has been contacted regarding the profile blocks. On Thursday it gave Business Insider a response, mirroring Weiner’s 2014 comments. “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,” it told the publication.


Helen Davidson in Taipei

The GuardianTramp

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