LinkedIn Blocks Some China Critics on Eve of Tiananmen Anniversary, Including Epoch Times Staff

LinkedIn is censoring some China critics—including some staff members at The Epoch Times—by wiping out their presence in China.

On the morning of June 3, a number of people within The Epoch Times network, including some staff members based in the United States, Sweden, and Turkey, received notifications alerting them to the decision.

The message, titled “Official Message from LinkedIn Member Safety and Recovery,” began by thanking the users for “using your LinkedIn profile to represent yourself professionally.”

“We want to make you aware that due to legal requirements impacting the accessibility within China of some publishing organizations, your profile and your activity, such as items you share with your network, are not visible to those accessing LinkedIn from within China at this time,” it stated. It added that the profile and activity “remain visible throughout the rest of the world where LinkedIn is available.”

The exact number of people impacted in The Epoch Times network remains unclear.

In a statement to The Epoch Times, the Microsoft-owned LinkedIn said the company “is a global platform with an obligation to respect the laws that apply to us, including Chinese government regulations for our localized version of LinkedIn in China.”

“Due to local legal requirements within China, the profiles and activity of some LinkedIn members associated with certain publishing organizations are not visible within China at this time,” the company said.

LinkedIn Message
A redacted LinkedIn message received by employees of The Epoch Times on June 3, 2021. (Screenshot via LinkedIn)

Two days earlier, LinkedIn took a similar action on China critic J Michael Cole. In a similar but more elaborate version of the message, they offered to work with Cole to “minimize the impact” and said they “can review your profile’s accessibility within China if you update the Publication section of your profile.”

The blockage came on the eve of the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, a bloody crackdown that saw the Chinese regime opening fire on activists who called for democratic and economic reforms in China, killing hundreds if not thousands of them.

The Epoch Times is one among a range of international sites that remain inaccessible to users inside the Great Firewall, the online censorship machine that allows the regime to filter out unwanted voices.

The publication has been at the forefront covering topics related to China, such as the CCP’s infiltration in the west, human rights violations, the harvesting of organs of prisoners of conscience in China, and the outbreak of the CCP virus in Wuhan.

LinkedIn, which launched a simplified Chinese site in 2014, is one of a handful of Western social media platforms still allowed in mainland China by agreeing to the Chinese restrictions. It currently has 53 million mainland Chinese users.

LinkedIn didn’t answer questions about the reasoning behind its decision and the specific local requirements it was referring to. Nor would it say whether it had similar agreements with other nations. Instead, the company pointed to a Feb. 24, 2014 statement from LinkedIn’s chief executive officer Jeff Weiner justifying the company’s expansion to China.

While Weiner said “LinkedIn strongly supports freedom of expression and fundamentally disagrees with government censorship,” they decided to adhere to the state censorship rules, because LinkedIn’s absence in China would limit “the ability of individual Chinese citizens to pursue and realize the economic opportunities, dreams, and rights most important to them.”

“Freedom of expression and opposition to censorship are incompatible with Chinese regulations,” said Benjamin Weingarten, a fellow at the California think tank Claremont Institute and a contributor to The Epoch Times, who received the LinkedIn message.

“Chinese regulations—that is, Chinese Communist Party rule,” he said, “ultimately stifles the economic opportunities, blots out the dreams, and violates the rights of Chinese citizens.”

Noting the timing of the LinkedIn action, Weingarten said it was “unbelievable, yet totally believable.”

“On the eve of the Tiananmen Square massacre—a subject that has been censored on Chinese social media and airbrushed out of Chinese textbooks—it is clear that the West took all the wrong lessons,” he told The Epoch Times in an email.

“Accounts of CCP leadership at the time demonstrate that they believed our perceived self-interest in doing business with China would lead us to look the other way in the face of the regime’s tyranny. Groveling entertainers, censorious platforms, and kowtowing corporations have unfortunately proven it right,” he wrote.

Over the years, LinkedIn has drawn heat for a number of censorship moves, including blanking out posts about the Tiananmen protests, blocking the account of a protest leader, and more recently, suspending a China critic’s account after removing his comments that called Beijing a “repressive dictatorship.”

On March 9, LinkedIn “temporarily” stopped Chinese users from registering new accounts in the country, again citing unspecified Chinese laws.

The company’s advertising policy also includes terms banning any advertisements that contain “criticism of the Chinese Communist Party, the People’s Republic of China, or the Chinese Liberation Army, excerpts of the [Chinese] national anthem,” any promotions of a virtual private network—a tool that would allow users to bypass the censorship—or those related to satellite services.

Cédric Alviani, the East Asia bureau director for Reporters Without Borders, told The Epoch Times that “Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounces the pressure applied by the Chinese regime on social platforms like LinkedIn to force them [to] contribute to its censorship campaigns.”

RSF rated China the 177th out of 180 on its 2021 World Press Freedom Index, calling it “world’s biggest jailer of press freedom defenders.”

“It’s true that everybody would greatly benefit if Chinese were connected to others around the world on a platform that focuses on learning and sharing. But that’s not what LinkedIn is,” said a co-founder of the anti-censorship group GreatFire.org, who goes by the pseudonym Charles Smith.

“LinkedIn is a sanitized, harmonized, and uninteresting job board. The last thing the platform values is freedom of expression,” he said, adding that “Microsoft rewards users who are afraid to speak up, who avoid asking hard questions, and who skirt around sensitive issues.”

The Epoch Times has reached out to Microsoft for comment but did not immediately hear back.

From The Epoch Times