After complaints and clear examples of bowing to Chinese censorship diktats, LinkedIn says it may have acted too hastily in friending China’s government.
LinkedIn executives said Tuesday that they are reconsidering their policies, after seven months of censoring content from China deemed too sensitive.
"We do want to get this right, and we are strongly considering changing our policy so that content from our Chinese members that is not allowed in China will still be viewed globally,” Hani Durzy, a spokesman for the Mountain View, Calif.-based company, told Bloomberg.
The professional social networking site is just the latest to wrestle with the moral quandaries that come with doing business in China amid the government's paranoia about the Internet. Facebook, Twitter and Google are largely blocked here.
LinkedIn, however, thought it could make it work. In February, the company launched its Chinese-language Web site and set up operations in China. In return, it promised to follow Chinese government rules and started self-censoring content.
But spokesman Durzy insisted back then that the company would do so only when “legally required.”
Then, in June, came the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The anniversary, a perennial headache for Web users in China, is marked by a clampdown on search terms, Internet speeds and intense government scrutiny.
LinkedIn users reported posts about Tiananmen being blocked even in Hong Kong, which lies outsides China’s censorship firewall. LinkedIn said at the time that it was an accident. And it said that although such content was self-censored in China, it would remain “accessible elsewhere in the world.”
But some users said that wasn’t true.
Rob Schmitz, a radio journalist for Marketplace whose story about the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown was blocked in China, wrote recently that LinkedIn blocked his report not only in China but also globally. “Content posted from China IP addresses will be blocked globally to protect the safety of our members that live in China,” LinkedIn said in an e-mail to Schmitz.
A few users have said that they would close their accounts in protest.
Paul Mooney, a journalist forced out of China by the government, announced on Twitter and Facebook that he would close his LinkedIn account.
Others said they’re making the same choice because LinkedIn is restricting free flowing communication, undermining its own objectives.
“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,” Fergus Ryan, the China correspondent for the news site China Spectator, told Wall street Journal during the Tiananmen anniversary. "I think that my followers on LinkedIn would expect to receive information from me about what’s happening in China."
When LinkedIn launched in China, Ryan Budish, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, predicted to Time magazine that LinkedIn would eventually have to do what China’s domestic social media companies do — hire armies of censors that sift the content and determine what to remove. “You can’t exactly just move in there and do business.”
At the time, LinkedIn chief executive Jeff Weiner seemed prepared to do so. In a post, he justified the decision this way: LinkedIn’s absence in China would limit the ability of individual Chinese to pursue and realize the economic opportunities, dreams and rights most important to them.
It’s paid off for the company. In a July conference call, Weiner said China had become LinkedIn’s fastest-growing major market for new members.