LinkedIn Censors Tiananmen Content, Again

When Microsoft’s LinkedIn launched a simplified Chinese webpage for Chinese users in 2014, it admitted it would follow Beijing’s censorship directives. It did so with a gusto that surprised even those who had engineered the policy—blocking content deemed illegal by Chinese authorities, much of it related to the anniversary of the Tiananmen protests, worldwide. Although it later backtracked from global censorship, LinkedIn has continued to block users’ profiles in China. In recent weeks, a number of academics, journalists, researchers, and others have received notices that their profiles have been censored—suggesting the company is stepping up content controls after being rebuked by China’s internet regulator in March. From Liza Lin at The Wall Street Journal, a report on LinkedIn’s latest censorship drive:

[Eyck Freymann, an Oxford University doctoral student] is one of a spate of LinkedIn users whose profiles have been blocked in recent weeks. The Wall Street Journal identified at least 10 other individuals who had their profiles blocked or posts removed from the China version of LinkedIn since May, including researchers in Jerusalem and Tokyo, journalists, a U.S. congressional staffer and an editor based in Beijing who posted state media reports about elephants rampaging across China.

[…] LinkedIn received 42 requests from Chinese authorities last year to take down content, the most the company received from any country, according to its semiannual transparency reports. It took down 38. It hasn’t released more recent numbers.

[…] China researchers and academics say this heightened censorship is part of the tightening control of the Chinese internet and public opinion under Mr. Xi. The ruling Communist Party marks its centennial anniversary next week and Beijing is clamping down on any kind of information that deviates from the official narrative, said Stephen Nagy, an academic at Tokyo’s International Christian University. Mr. Nagy’s profile was hidden in China this month by LinkedIn, citing prohibited content.[Source]

At The Guardian, Helen Davidson interviewed two of the academics censored by LinkedIn:

“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,” [Swedish writer and photographer Jojje] 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.”

[…] “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],” [J Michael] 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.” [Source]

A number of people shared their censorship notifications on Twitter:

In response to questions about its censorship policies from Business Insider’s Mia Jankowicz, a LinkedIn spokesperson said: “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.” LinkedIn’s latest efforts are likely a response to increased regulatory scrutiny from the Cyberspace Administration of China, a powerful agency that plays a pivotal role in censoring China’s internet. At The New York Times, Paul Mozur, Raymond Zhong and Steve Lohr write:

China’s internet regulator rebuked LinkedIn executives this month for failing to control political content, according to three people briefed on the matter. Though it isn’t clear precisely what material got the company into trouble, the regulator said it had found objectionable posts circulating in the period around an annual meeting of China’s lawmakers, said these people, who asked for anonymity because the issue isn’t public.

As a punishment, the people said, officials are requiring LinkedIn to perform a self-evaluation and offer a report to the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s internet regulator. The service was also forced to suspend new sign-ups of users inside China for 30 days, one of the people added, though that period could change depending on the administration’s judgment.

[…] The company has used a combination of software algorithms and human reviewers to flag posts that could offend Beijing. Users who run afoul of the speech rules have generally received emails informing them that their post is not viewable by LinkedIn members in China.

[…] Mr. Xi has presided over the rising power of the Cyberspace Administration of China, the regulator that punished LinkedIn. It has become a de facto ministry of censorship, poring over memes and complaints across the country’s internet, and calling for takedowns when companies’ censors miss something. [Source]

LinkedIn is not the only Microsoft-owned company operating in China. The search engine Bing has censored results in China since 2009. But on June 4, the 32nd anniversary of the violent repression of the 1989 Tiananmen protests, Bing censored images for the iconic “tank man” image globally as well. From Paul Mozur at The New York Times:

Users outside China reported that the search engine had returned text results for “tank man” — as the unknown person, carrying shopping bags, who blocked a line of tanks in central Beijing after the killings has become known. But Bing’s video and image tabs displayed no references to the event.

[…] A Microsoft spokeswoman said in a statement that the filtering was due to “accidental human error” and that the company was working to resolve the problem. By early Saturday, the site was once again returning the video and image results.

[…] Microsoft is the only major foreign company that runs a censored search engine inside China. It has struggled to appease the country’s regulators, who heavily censor the internet and worry about the security of technology made by American companies. For its part, the United States government has increasingly punished Chinese companies that it says are tied to online repression and surveillance. [Source]


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