It’s the end of an era for American-owned social media sites in China—and for the former hope that such platforms would one day lead to open dialogue there.
In 2009, China blocked access to Twitter and Facebook. Google left a year later after recognizing threats to its future there, not to mention attempts to censor and hack users’ accounts. Now, LinkedIn is shutting down its local iteration of the careers and networking site, which launched in 2014 after deciding to adhere to the Chinese government’s internet regulations.
“While we’ve found success in helping Chinese members find jobs and economic opportunity, we have not found that same level of success in the more social aspects of sharing and staying informed,” Mohak Shroff, head of engineering at LinkedIn, wrote in a company blog post. “We’re also facing a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China.”
All of these factors, he explained, played into the company’s reasoning to fold its site there later this year.
LinkedIn stopped signing up new members in China months ago
In China, people have not been able to sign up and join LinkedIn since March, when the company put a hold on membership, claiming it needed to review local laws to make sure it was in compliance. “Around the same time, China’s internet regulator told LinkedIn officials to better regulate its content and gave them 30 days to do so,” the Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed sources.
Over the past several months, LinkedIn accounts of scholars, reporters, and human-right activists focused on China have been blocked, raising questions about LinkedIn’s complicity in China’s internet crackdown and its professed dedication to transparency.
LinkedIn in China had attracted 54 million users, the New York Times reported, making it the social network’s largest market after the US and India.
LinkedIn is a key source of revenue for its parent company Microsoft, which bought the smaller firm in 2016, and which has a longer, complicated relationship (paywall) with China. (Microsoft’s Bing search engine still operates in China and censors results deemed sensitive by the Chinese government.)
LinkedIn isn’t completely abandoning China. It’s planning to resurface there later in 2021 under the name InJobs, which will be a typical job board site, without social features that allow users to share articles, ideas, and opinions.
Chinese residents will lose another source of direct contact with Western countries
On other social media sites, some commentators said they’re pleased to see that Microsoft and LinkedIn are indirectly defying China’s attempts to control the flow of information on the site, rather than bowing to demands from the Communist Party.
But Graham Webster, editor of DigiChina, a Stanford University site that analyzes Chinese tech policy, pointed out on Twitter that the issue is nuanced. Just as when Google search departed China, “something is lost” with LinkedIn’s exit, he tweeted.
It’s “okay to feel the downside of this lost avenue” for direct contact between China and the rest of the world, he wrote, “because LinkedIn getting out of the business does zero to make online life less censored for Chinese users.”
In a statement to Quartz, LinkedIn did not elaborate on its decision but said “we will continue to have a strong presence in China to drive our new strategy and are excited to launch the new InJobs app later this year.”