LinkedIn was the only major American social network allowed to operate in China. To do this, a Microsoft-owned service professionally censuses posts made by its millions of Chinese users.
It is now in hot water so as not to censor enough.
The Chinese Internet regulator this month reprimanded the leaders of LinkedIn for not controlling the political content, according to three people informed about it. Although it is not clear which material caused the problems in the company, the regulator said it had found objectionable records circulating during the annual meeting of Chinese lawmakers.
According to the people, as a punishment, officials demand that LinkedIn conduct a self-assessment and submit a report to the China Cyberspace Authority (CAC), the country’s Internet regulator. The service was also forced to suspend new user registrations inside China for 30 days, one person added, although that period could be changed at the discretion of the administration.
The CAC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The presence of LinkedIn in China has long been of interest in Silicon Valley as a potential Internet-enabled Internet gateway home to some of the world’s largest web users. The sentence underscores the deep-seated differences between the United States and China over how the Internet should work.
For years, the Chinese government has blocked major US services such as Facebook, Twitter and Google for failing to control what is posted there. Critics in Washington say such barriers are a sign that China is reluctant to back down from global norms governing the Internet and technology.
LinkedIn’s China service, which has more than 50 million members, makes it vulnerable to tensions between the two powers. The race with the regulator took place in Alaska on Thursday, just weeks before the scheduled meeting between China and US officials, the Biden administration’s first face-to-face meeting.
Competition over technology has been a key point between the two countries. The Biden administration has said it will appeal to allies to help China crack down on technology policies it deems unfair. Chinese officials have launched new technology self-confidence programs that include computer chips to develop their own versions of everything from airplanes to airplanes.
Concerns have been heightened in Washington recently by hackers who initially linked Microsoft to China, targeting business and government agencies that use the company’s e-mail services.
On March 9, LinkedIn posted a statement saying it had “temporarily” suspended new users from registering in China.
“We are a global platform that is committed to respecting our laws, including adhering to Chinese government regulations on the localized version of China’s LinkedIn,” the statement added.
Local Chinese companies regularly endure such reprimands, noting how difficult it is to navigate the Internet market, which is characterized by constant word-tightening controls. The Chinese Internet censorship agreement does not guarantee smooth navigation of any firm, foreign or local.
When it first announced that it would launch a Chinese website almost seven years ago, LinkedIn sparked interest in the US Internet industry, which was permanently banned by the country’s Firewall because China’s censorship system was nicknamed. To secure its presence, LinkedIn sold shares in well-connected Chinese venture capital partners and promised to follow local laws, including censorship guidelines.
The company used a combination of software algorithms and human reviewers to report messages that offended Beijing. Users who evade the rules of speech generally receive emails informing them that their post is not visible to LinkedIn members in China.
Its initial efforts angered users whose content was blocked, even if they posted it outside the country. Still, unlike its peers, LinkedIn remained in China to offer tangible case studies on market access.
That persistence has not always been successful. LinkedIn has struggled to compete with WeChat’s ubiquitous Chinese chat և social media service և remains a relatively small player.
The environment has also become more complex. Since taking over the Communist Party in late 2012, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has put a lot of pressure on the Internet. Xi’s policy also called for deepening economic self-sufficiency, avoiding Western culture by striking a blow to connecting Chinese professionals to the world.
Xi presided over the growing power of the CAC, the regulator that punishes LinkedIn. It has become the de facto ministry of censorship, sending memes, complaining on the country’s Internet, calling for it to be removed when company censors miss something.