LinkedIn has censored some critics of the regime in Beijing—including some staff members of The Epoch Times—by blocking their accessibility in China in connection with the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
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 affected within The Epoch Times network remains unclear.
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,” Microsoft-owned LinkedIn said in a statement to The Epoch Times.
“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.”
Two days earlier, LinkedIn took similar action against China critic J. Michael Cole. In a more elaborate version of the same message, the company offered to work with Cole to “minimize the impact” and said it could review his profile’s accessibility within China if he updated the “Publication” section of his profile.
The blockage came on the eve of the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, a bloody crackdown that saw the Chinese regime open fire on students calling 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 behind the Great Firewall, the online censorship machine that allows the regime in Beijing to filter out unwanted voices. The publication has been at the forefront of covering topics related to China, such as the CCP’s infiltration in the West, human rights violations, and illegal harvesting of organs from prisoners of conscience in China, as well as 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, due to its agreement to follow the regime’s restrictions. It currently has 53 million mainland Chinese users.
LinkedIn didn’t answer questions from The Epoch Times 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 then-LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner justifying the company’s expansion to China.
“LinkedIn strongly supports freedom of expression and fundamentally disagrees with government censorship,” Weiner said in the statement, while noting that LinkedIn’s absence from China would limit “the ability of individual Chinese citizens to pursue and realize the economic opportunities, dreams, and rights most important to them.”
Benjamin Weingarten, a fellow at the California think tank Claremont Institute and an Epoch Times contributor who received the LinkedIn message, said: “Freedom of expression and opposition to censorship are incompatible with Chinese regulations.
“Chinese regulations—that is, Chinese Communist Party rule—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.”
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 referred to the regime in 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 177th out of 180 nations 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,” according to a co-founder of the anti-censorship group GreatFire.org, who goes by the pseudonym Charlie Smith.
“LinkedIn is a sanitized, harmonized, and uninteresting job board. The last thing the platform values is freedom of expression. Microsoft rewards users who are afraid to speak up, who avoid asking hard questions, and who skirt around sensitive issues.”
Microsoft officials didn’t respond to a request for comment.