23 February 2019
LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner admits that content may have to be filtered for the company to achieve scale in China. Photo: Bloomberg
LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner admits that content may have to be filtered for the company to achieve scale in China. Photo: Bloomberg

LinkedIn mulls policy change after China censorship

LinkedIn, a business-oriented social networking site, is considering changing its censorship policy in China, which has been criticized by human rights groups, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

The policy came to light in June after the company notified a Shanghai-based journalist through an email that one of his articles would be blocked in China.

The email to Rob Schmitz, a reporter for public radio program Marketplace, showed how LinkedIn is deciding what to censor based on guidelines handed down by Chinese officials, the Journal said.

According to the little-known policy, content prohibited in China that is posted from within the country is censored everywhere in the world, not just in China.

A LinkedIn spokesman said the policy was designed to protect people in China from retribution from government officials, who might notice the content outside China.

The spokesman said the company did not receive a request from China to censor content until June, more than three months after it launched there.

The request, which listed specific areas LinkedIn should ban from its site in China, coincided with the 25th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. The LinkedIn spokesman declined to provide details of the guidelines.

The spokesman said LinkedIn is considering changing the policy.

The incident highlights the challenges for social networks operating in China, where media are strictly controlled, according to the Journal. 

When LinkedIn launched its China site in February, chief executive Jeff Weiner admitted that some content might be censored, and that he wasn’t sure how the censorship would work.

“We are strongly in support of freedom of expression and we are opposed to censorship but recognize that in order to obtain a license [in China], there will be requests to filter content and that’s going to be necessary for us to achieve the kind of scale that we’d like,” he said at the time.

According to Schmitz, LinkedIn in June blocked an article he posted to the network about the anniversary. He said LinkedIn also blocked another article, by a journalist for The Australian, about Guo Jian, a Tiananmen Square protester and artist detained by Chinese authorities shortly before the anniversary.

Jeremy Goldkorn, an expert on Chinese social media, disagreed with LinkedIn’s policy to block posts by Chinese LinkedIn members from being seen outside China.

“Their Chinese members should be able to choose what they should post and they know better than a foreign company how to protect themselves from the government,” Goldkorn said.

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