Chinese activists lament end of last major US social media platform in China: LinkedIn

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When Chinese human rights activist Zhou Fengsuo first joined LinkedIn 10 years ago, he used the platform for professional networking.

But after quitting a finance job in 2017, the social media site has become the primary way for him to connect with people in China – from his home in the United States.

Zhou, a student leader of the Tiananmen Square protests who has been exiled from China, said LinkedIn has also allowed him to shine a light on human rights issues in China.

In 2019, his public advocacy caught the attention of LinkedIn management.

Activist Zhou Fengsuo used LinkedIn to raise awareness of human rights issues in China. (Provided)

His account was blocked for several hours, meaning it could not be accessed in China.

Mr. Zhou said the company later told him that the blockage was a “mistake.”

He believes the censorship is due to pressure from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Zhou said China wants to make criticism “invisible” on the country’s internet.

“The CCP has used the Great Firewall to decouple itself from the international community on the Internet and force these companies to obey its rules,” he said.

LinkedIn was still going to be censored in China, expert says

Despite the censorship, Zhou is one of many Chinese activists concerned about the announcement of LinkedIn shutting down in China later this year, after Beijing tightened internet rules.

It is the only major U.S. social media platform still active in China.

Google retired its search engine in 2010, while other US social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China.

Zhou fears that shutting down LinkedIn will allow the government to further tighten control over internet content and cut people in China off from the rest of the world.

LinkedIn’s parent company, Microsoft, said in a blog post in mid-October that it was facing “a significantly more difficult operating environment and stricter compliance requirements in China.”

An illuminated blue linkedin logo on a purple background
Microsoft has said its LinkedIn service in China will shut down later this year following stricter censorship rules from the Chinese government. (AP: Eric Risberg (File))

LinkedIn will replace its platform located in China with a new app called InJobs, which has some career networking features, but “will not include social feeds or the ability to share posts or articles.”

A spokesperson for LinkedIn said the company “will continue to have a strong presence in China” and was “excited” to launch InJobs later this year.

Barney Tan, associate professor at the University of Sydney, said the social media side of LinkedIn “will always be heavily watched and potentially subject to censorship.”

“By transforming itself into a job portal, LinkedIn is getting rid of its riskiest business while maintaining a commitment to free speech in the eyes of the West,” he said.

Dr Tan said the Chinese government’s crackdown on other tech giants like Didi, Meituan and Pinduoduo showed entire business models could be “banned without warning.”

In March, Chinese regulators suspended new LinkedIn user registrations for a month.

In May, they asked around 100 apps, including LinkedIn and Microsoft’s Bing search engine, to review their data collection and use.

Chinese analyst trolled on LinkedIn after interviews with US media

Liu Lipeng also had an altercation with LinkedIn, after becoming a vocal critic of censorship in China.

Mr. Liu said he was not surprised at LinkedIn’s decision to shut down the current platform in China.

He said Microsoft had not modified LinkedIn to accommodate China’s strict internet censorship regulations.

Mr. Liu used his first LinkedIn account to contact foreign journalists and do anonymous interviews from China.

He was familiar with censorship systems in China: in the past, he had worked for Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, to manually detect and remove sensitive words and content.

He had no idea then that his name would also become a censored word on Weibo.

A man is looking at the camera
Liu Lipeng has been targeted on LinkedIn after criticizing China in interviews with US media.(Provided)

The deletion came after he moved to the United States in 2020 with his family due to the pandemic.

He then began to use his real name in media interviews criticizing China.

“After the interviews, my LinkedIn exploded and all kinds of malicious messages came in, even after I turned off all my private messages,” Mr. Liu said.

“It was very, very scary.”

He said patriotic Chinese netizens also tried to get his private information through LinkedIn and publish it publicly, but they were unsuccessful.

“I was also worried that the Chinese government could use the data to find me,” he said.

After being trolled on LinkedIn, Mr. Liu deleted his account for security reasons.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China was “actively committed to creating a favorable business environment for foreign investors.”

“China is firmly committed to expanding its openness to the outside world and, as always, will welcome companies from all countries, including the United States, to invest and do business in China, providing a market, rule of law and international affairs. environment, ”he said last week.

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