“U.S. company LinkedIn now works as a censor on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party, blocking my Axios colleague’s profile because of her critical reporting on the CCP,” Axios reporter Jonathan Swan tweeted this week.
With the tweet, Swan hoped to raise awareness about the alarming censorship activity going on at LinkedIn, a popular business networking platform owned by Microsoft, in specific reference to colleague his Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian.
What are the details?
Allen-Ebrahimian, who works for Axios as a China reporter, was notified by the platform on Tuesday that her account had been blocked in China over undisclosed “prohibited content” in the summary section of her profile.
In its message, the tech platform did not tell Allen-Ebrahimian which content specifically triggered the censorship, nor did it disclose who tipped the company off to the problematic language.
“I woke up this morning to discover that LinkedIn had blocked my profile in China,” Allen-Ebrahimian tweeted Tuesday. “I used to have to wait for Chinese govt censors, or censors employed by Chinese companies in China, to do this kind of thing. Now a U.S. company is paying its own employees to censor Americans.”
In a lengthy Twitter thread, the reporter went on to detailed the history of LinkedIn’s Chinese-related censorship practices, which appear to have begun in 2014 before escalating considerably this year following complaints from the CCP.
Then, she made mention of a particularly “disturbing” element of the tech platform’s message, which she called “free self-censorship consulting service.”
In the alert, LinkedIn warned Allen-Ebrahimian that her account would remain disabled in China unless she removed the offending content. But to soften the blow, the company offered to help her make sure her profile is CCP-approved.
“We will work with you to minimize the impact and can review your profile’s accessibility within China if you update the Summary section of your profile,” the platform said.
Allen-Ebrahimian offered a translation: “If I delete the offending parts of my profile, trained employees can check to see if I have self-censored enough to pass CCP regulations.”
The journalist went even further to question how exactly her profile was flagged or, more precisely, who originally flagged it — LinkedIn or the Chinese government?
Both are troubling, she argued. If the former, it means the U.S. company is quite literally paying employees to monitor for profile content considered offensive to the Chinese government. If the latter, it means LinkedIn is working hand-in-hand with the CCP on censorship practices.
According to the New York Times, LinkedIn is the lone major American social network allowed to operate in China. But with that luxury comes tighter restrictions on what users can say. Now it appears that its tightrope operation of trying to please China has come to a crossroads.
And while the tech platform is far from the first U.S. company to compromise American ideals in order to maximize profit globally, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be the subject of harsh scrutiny.