LinkedIn Is Helping The Chinese Government Silence Critics

from the maybe-people-will-start-paying-attention-to-their-notifications-NOW dept

The social networks of the world aren't doing much to make the world a better place. Facilitating communications across borders is great -- a definite net gain for the world's citizens. But these platforms insist on distributing globally while thinking locally, making their operations subject to censorial governments in the countries where they do business.

Facebook's refusal to stand up to various authoritarian governments arguably made it an accessory to the fact in genocide. Twitter tends to sit back and let Turkey's government vanish away criticism of President Erdogan and his actions. Google appears to be one of the few companies responsive to the Chinese government's demands for content deletion, which is probably due to its ability to get past the country's Great Firewall as well as its temporarily suspended construction of a Chinese government-controlled search engine.

One social network rarely appears in these discussions, most likely because few people actually see it as a social network. LinkedIn -- the de facto adult in the world of social networking -- is also giving China what it wants when it wants it.

LinkedIn censored the profile and activities of a vocal critic of the Chinese government for users in China, in another apparent response to a censorship request from the government.

Corporate fraud investigator Peter Humphrey, who is British and lives in the UK, was informed by LinkedIn in December that his profile had been censored in China, but after being asked about it by BuzzFeed News this week, LinkedIn restored the page and said it had only been blocked in error.

It comes days after LinkedIn censored the page of a pro-democracy activist in China before also later restoring it after a wave of negative publicity.

LinkedIn is one of the only American social media services to be warmly welcomed on the other side of the Great Firewall. Consequently, this means it actually has something to report about China and its demands for content removal in its transparency reports. So far, the censorship plan is working... with an assist from LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is trying to have it both ways. It's complying with China's demands and saying things about having to follow the laws of the country it's doing business in, as it did in a message to Peter Humphrey about his account suspension. (Screenshot at this link.)

While we strongly support freedom of expression, we recognized when we launched that we would need to adhere to the requirements of the Chinese government in order to operate in China.

Then, when the heat comes down, LinkedIn is trying to pretend its proxy censorship was just a mistake.

Asked why Humphrey's profile had been removed in China, Nicole Leverich, a spokesperson for LinkedIn, said an internal review found the profile was “blocked in error.” It has now been restored for users in China, she said.

“Our Trust and Safety team is updating our internal processes to help prevent an error like this from happening again,” she added.

Swell, if that is what's actually going to happen going forward. But China is batting 9-for-9 in takedowns so far, which seems to indicate the review process kicks in only after people start complaining, rather than when LinkedIn receives requests from the Chinese government.

While it makes things easier to abide by local laws when offering services in other countries, companies shouldn't be in any hurry to indulge censorship just because locals laws enable the silencing of criticism and dissent.

Filed Under: censorship, china, free speech, social media
Companies: linkedin, microsoft


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 11 Jan 2019 @ 1:50am

    You'd think a shift like that would have been on the news...

    Google appears to be one of the few countries responsive to the Chinese government's demands for content deletion,

    I know the company is big, but I didn't realize it had reached country size.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      hij (profile), 11 Jan 2019 @ 2:43am

      Re: You'd think a shift like that would have been on the news...

      In the US it is also considered to be a person due to its corporationness. It finally hit the trifecta of country, company, and critter.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 11 Jan 2019 @ 3:42am

      Re: You'd think a shift like that would have been on the news...

      I thought I'd have a quick look for a laugh. According to the stats on Wikipedia, on a list of countries by population, Google's employee numbers would put it between Andorra and the Seychelles.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    hij (profile), 11 Jan 2019 @ 2:41am

    To make matters worse

    Linkedin is a bit more insidious than the others in that they wish to make themselves important to people's livelihoods. If they become an important part of the employment process then it becomes harder for people to simply avoid them. It is like trying to build a honeypot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2019 @ 4:37am

    corporate responsibility is a fine thing, but are you suggesting that they only pay attention to laws that you or I like?

    We are many many years away from any unified view on how we as a people should live. That a lot of us agree on this topic does not make it the only, or even the right way.

    If a corporation wants to do business somewhere, it should adhere *any* laws that are applicable, just like anyone else.

    The only choice corporations can make is to not do business somewhere. (well they could also bribe the right persons... but most places have laws against that too)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 11 Jan 2019 @ 5:14am

      Re:

      If a corporation wants to do business somewhere, it should adhere any laws that are applicable, just like anyone else.

      “If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go; perchance it will wear smooth,—certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.” — Henry David Thoreau, Resistance to Civil Government (Civil Disobedience)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 11 Jan 2019 @ 5:25am

      Re:

      That a company may be in the position of 'apply our oppressive laws or else get out of the country' does not make those laws any better, nor the company free from blame for complying.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Bamboo Harvester (profile), 11 Jan 2019 @ 10:46am

        Re: Re:

        Wow. So much for Sovereignty.

        Look at all those foreigners who think their own laws in their own countries have more force than US law. Where do they get that kind of nerve?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 11 Jan 2019 @ 5:02pm

          Almost as though it's not there...

          Yeah, if you could point me to the part where I said or even implied 'laws in other countries don't apply because US law trumps them', rather than 'oppressive laws in any country are bad, and companies are not guiltless for deciding that being an instrument of those laws is an acceptable price to pay', that'd be great, because my browser seems to be on the fritz and doesn't seem to be showing that part of my comment.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Drunk Uncle Sam, 11 Jan 2019 @ 7:03am

      Re:

      "We are many many years away from any unified view on how we as a people should live."

      And who is it that will make this decision for us? I look forward to the day when our benevolent overlords tell us how to live our lives to the most minuscule details because we are all just too stupid to know any better. We all need mommy government looking over our shoulders at all times because we lack the personal responsibilities.

      Amirite?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Mincher Schnauzer, 11 Jan 2019 @ 5:50am

    Either corporations are persons with Rights to do as want...

    OR they're fictions, mere machinery that's to serve human interests.

    In this piece you're arguing the latter -- because that's your actual view, practically inevitable as a human, even Masnick has stated it, while if were writing to spec to put over your more frequent "corporation-uber-alles" position, then you'd regard LinkedIn as a "person" which should rightly tell YOU where to put your notions of "morality" and to stop interfering with its business: to MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS.

    You CANNOT have it both ways. CHOOSE.

    [Rhetorical only. As good corporatists, Techdirt will continue to promote the personhood fiction when need to silence critics, while when suits will blithely be humanist and inconsistent. It's easy to be a 'dirty.]

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Mincher Schnauzer, 11 Jan 2019 @ 5:57am

      Re: Either corporations are persons with Rights to do as want...

      And of course the tension arises from regarding Chinese Communists as at all civilized, when in fact are continuing the most brutal Communist regime ever. The West should never have started "trading" with it at all. That'd be true humanism with a bit of foresight. But corporations -- which are entirely amoral beasts, you're only imagining share your humanist wishes -- wanted access to slave labor for the arbitrage of selling cheap products in the rich West. So, again, The Rich and their corporations are obviously main problems, must be taxed until they do morally right actions.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Gary (profile), 11 Jan 2019 @ 9:00am

        Re: Re: Either corporations are Trolls

        Inflate your self importance much?

        Posting two or three silly comments in a row doesn't make you right - it just shows that you are trying to shout down folks down.

        I'm not ever sure what you are shouting about. You hate corporations, and claim to love common law - but hate judges and congress who make common law. You hate pirates and love it when corporations attack them - so mostly you just love corporations, right?

        If you really had something to say, you'd have your own blog. If you want to prove to us that you aren't a liar, a troll, and a fraud show us a comprehensive manifesto. Otherwise you are just shouting fragments like "Persons!" without context. (And this is clearly the tactic of someone who is listening to someone else's dogma, but doesn't really understand it, and thus can't explain it.)

        Have you every actually explained why my definition of "Common Law" isn't the same as yours? No, you just shout "Aha!" and run off.

        So put up or shut up. Or keep running your kiddie troll mouth from your mom's basement.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          stderric (profile), 11 Jan 2019 @ 10:58am

          Re: Re: Re: Either corporations are Trolls

          If you want to prove to us that you aren't a liar, a troll, and a fraud show us a comprehensive manifesto.

          I've always thought of him as the epitome of someone who does have a manifesto -- in the sense of "700 volumes, written in crayon, covering Google mind-control, a comparison of Reynolds Wrap vs. generic aluminum foil, the best sources for buying 70s-era Testors model paint, random grocery lists, and Zdzisław Beksiński/Care Bears fanfic".

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 11 Jan 2019 @ 6:16am

      You CANNOT have it both ways. CHOOSE.

      Or else what?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 11 Jan 2019 @ 6:41am

        Re:

        ...or else he will launch further attacks on the false dichotomy and flimsy straw men he's presented!

        It's funny how many arguments he can "win" when he completely misrepresents everyone else's position and refuses to be drawn into a debate using verifiable facts.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2019 @ 7:04am

          Re: Re:

          "It's funny how many arguments he can "win" when he completely misrepresents everyone else's position and refuses to be drawn into a debate using verifiable facts."

          Is Donald posting here?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 11 Jan 2019 @ 6:52am

        Re:

        Or else they shall rant and issue empty threats at you and the world in general another time.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2019 @ 6:44pm

      Re:

      This coming from the fanboy who eagerly cobbles AT&T's cock at every given opportunity.

      Just because you've chosen doesn't mean the rest of us have to agree. You breathe oxygen, for fuck's sake, not semen!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2019 @ 9:09am

    Simple Minded Answer

    Cancelled my account. Told 'em I disapproved their actions and cited this article.

    Will only impact a couple of hundred linkedIn-ers and though them some others. Shame LI probably won't share my reason with those.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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