from the block-enough-accounts-and-it’s-really-not-a-network,-is-it dept
LinkedIn — the business-oriented social media platform owned by Microsoft — has spent the last few years increasing its compliance with the Chinese government’s demands for censorship. A couple of years back, the network drew heat for not only blocking accounts of Chinese pro-democracy activists but also critics of the government located elsewhere in the world.
The blocking only occurred in China, but that was enough to cause PR trouble for LinkedIn, which restored some of the accounts following some deserved backlash. The Chinese government didn’t care much for LinkedIn’s temporary capitulations so it turned up the heat. After failing to block enough content, the Chinese government ordered LinkedIn’s local office to perform a self-audit and report on its findings to the country’s internet regulator. It was also blocked from signing up any new Chinese citizens for 30 days.
The pressure appears to have worked. China is again asking for censorship of voices it doesn’t like. And, again, LinkedIn is complying. Here’s the report from Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian of Axios, who was one of those targeted by the latest round of account blocking.
LinkedIn blocked the profiles of several U.S. journalists from the company’s China-based platform this week, citing “prohibited content.” My account was one of the profiles affected.
LinkedIn customer service sent me an email on Sept. 27 stating that, due to “prohibited content” in the summary section of my profile, the company was blocking my profile from being viewable in China.
Melissa Chan, a former China correspondent who now works as a journalist in Berlin, posted on Twitter that she had received a similar email on Sept. 28.
Greg Bruno, the author of a book about China’s soft-power push against Tibetans, also posted on Twitter on Sept. 28 that he had received an email from LinkedIn. It cited the “publications” section of his profile, in which the only publication listed is his book.
The Chinese government’s ability to block foreign journalists from appearing on the local version of LinkedIn has drawn more attention to its censorship practices. But that’s pretty much the thing that China does all the time, so it’s hardly surprising it would seek to keep its citizens from interacting with people it doesn’t approve of.
What’s more disturbing is Microsoft/LinkedIn’s compliance, which has drawn the attention of Senator Rick Scott, who is now asking the company to explain why it’s helping China with its censorship.
The letter [PDF] from Scott makes some good points, but makes some of those points badly.
The censorship of these journalists raises serious questions about Microsoft’s intentions and its commitment to standing up against Communist China’s horrific human rights abuses and repeated attacks against democracy. These acts of censorship by your company, and the apparent broader Microsoft censorship policy of, “offering a localized version of LinkedIn in China,” is gross appeasement and an act of submission to Communist China.
That’s a good point. The follow-up is a bit more self-serving.
While Microsoft is censoring journalists abroad, it is actively spreading misinformation domestically. In March 2021, Microsoft openly decried an election security law passed by the Georgia legislature which made it easier for Georgia residents to vote while reducing the possibility of fraud.
Meanwhile, your company has been silent on Communist China rigging its elections and General Secretary Xi declaring himself ruler for life. In the face of these true assaults on democracy, Microsoft is openly suppressing those who try to expose Xi’s authoritarian rule.
The election security law is really about voter suppression, something Rick Scott certainly isn’t going to publicly acknowledge. This is some useless point scoring thrown in to make it appear Microsoft’s opposition to this bill is on par with its acquiescence to authoritarian rulers in another part of the world.
Here’s what the supposedly pro-democracy “election security” bill passed in Georgia actually does:
In Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp just signed into law a bill that adds many obstacles to voting, including reducing the number of ballot boxes, shrinking the window for early voting, adding additional photo ID requirements, and allowing state officials to circumvent the work of county election officials if they don’t like the outcomes they are seeing. The Georgia bill even goes so far as to make it illegal for outside groups to give water or food to voters stuck in long lines.
It’s not about security. It’s about making democracy accessible to those with the most resources and expendable time. So, that’s some bullshit and Scott would have been better off sticking to chastising LinkedIn for carrying the Chinese government’s censorship water rather than pretending his associates in Georgia are all about that democracy.
Scott does ask some good questions, though, which hopefully will generate some explanation for LinkedIn’s decision to engage in proxy censorship to maintain access to a sizable number of Chinese users.
Is censorship of user views that are not aligned with the Chinese Communist Party a function of LinkedIn’s “localized version” of its platform in China?
How many accounts has LinkedIn censored because of content the Chinese Communist Party disliked, or that LinkedIn feared might upset Chinese Communist Party authorities?
Why does Microsoft choose to weigh in on domestic political matters, but stay silent on foreign political matters, and what is its decision-making process for speaking on political matters?
The last question is still a good one, even though Scott undercut this point earlier by claiming a voter suppression bill was actually an election security bill. And it could be that LinkedIn does weigh in on local issues in China. It’s just that the Chinese government doesn’t care what LinkedIn thinks and has offered the platform the option of complying or leaving.
So far, the answer is still compliance. And that’s really not an acceptable tradeoff. American companies shouldn’t willingly do business with authoritarians. Any compliance only affirms that the party holding the real power is the political party issuing the orders. Demands for censorship will only increase. And opening a local office pretty much guarantees the government will start demanding full access to Chinese residents’ data and communications. If you cave on the easier stuff, you’ve got nothing left to stand on when they come for the rest of it.
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Filed Under: censorship, china, content moderation, journalism
Companies: linkedin, microsoft