The company points to “challenging conditions” in the country. Critics have long pointed out that LinkedIn uses censorship to please authorities in Beijing. According to China correspondent Roland Smid, the closure means a temporary end to foreign social media in China.
“And that’s a shame,” he says, because LinkedIn played a unique role in the country. Apps such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp have already been blocked, but Chinese users can still post, comment and view profiles on LinkedIn. So that will come to an end.
According to Smid, the company had no choice: “It has received heavy criticism lately. LinkedIn would censor profiles of journalists and academics. For example, you could not put in your profile that you had researched human rights violations in China in the past. LinkedIn would then block your profile for Chinese users so that it was no longer visible to them here.”
That while the company itself says it supports freedom of expression. LinkedIn has been operating in China for seven years, with a local platform that has to comply with local laws, such as censorship. Earlier this year, the Chinese government already urged better ‘enforcement’ on sensitive information.
Chinese social media have also been dealt with more strictly in recent years. For example, companies such as Tencent and Alibaba have been fined and have to meet stricter requirements for data collection.
Successful for a long time
LinkedIn, which is owned by Microsoft, has long been successful in China because it has always adhered to local rules. Vincent Brussee, digital media regulation analyst in China for German think tank Merics, points out that the company is disabling certain features for Chinese users to comply with the rules. “You can’t post videos, create groups, or add attachments in China. Also, some users are made completely invisible.”
Another reason for its success, according to Brussee, is that LinkedIn has long continued to fly under the censorship radar, because the platform does not naturally lend itself to topics that cause social unrest. “It’s a career platform.”
Yet LinkedIn concluded that it could no longer live with the censorship. Brussee: “Each company sooner or later finds itself in a split: do you bend with the Chinese rules, or do you leave China. It went well for LinkedIn for a long time, but at a certain point the criticism becomes too much.”
LinkedIn says it is working on a new vacancy platform, especially for China, without social media functions. In this way, the company can continue to operate in the country, without too strict censorship.
Western countries blocked
According to Smid, the announcement fits in with a trend that makes it more difficult for Chinese to communicate online with foreign countries: “All other western social media are blocked, so if you want to go to Facebook in China, for example, you need special software that allows you to avoids the online block, and not everyone has that.”
According to Smid, LinkedIn was one of the last online bridges between China and the World. “And that bridge has now been demolished.”