LinkedIn, the only major American social network allowed to operate in China, announced Thursday that it is going to shutter its social-media platform in the Middle Kingdom. The decision marks the biggest departure from China by a major tech company in years.
The company, which is owned by Microsoft, cited a “significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements” by Beijing authorities as the reason for the decision.
Other social-media services like Twitter and Facebook have been blocked in China for years. Their inability to control what is posted on their sites made them an anathema to the Beijing leadership. LinkedIn had been able to maintain its presence only because it censored many of the posts made by its users.
“While we 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,” the company said.
Even so, it clearly ran afoul of Internet regulators in March. That’s when China’s internet regulator warned LinkedIn that it was failing to control what it saw as objectionable political content. The Cyberspace Administration of China, CAC, told LinkedIn it had to do better. In response, LinkedIn was required to write a kind of self-criticism and file it with the CAC. Around that same time, the company announced publicly that it would “temporarily” suspend new sign-ups.
In their statement on Thursday, LinkedIn made clear that while it was trying to abide by local regulations, in the end doing so became too much. “While we 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,” the company said. “We’re also facing a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China.”
LinkedIn isn’t abandoning its Chinese members completely. The company said it will offer its 50 million Chinese members a slimmed down version of their platform: an app focused just on job postings. Users will not be able to share or comment on posts — a key feature of the LinkedIn platform elsewhere in the world
In 2014, when LinkedIn began working in China, it said it was a global platform “with an obligation to respect the laws that apply to us, including adhering to Chinese government regulations for our localized version of LinkedIn in China.”
The company even sold a stake of the Chinese operation to local venture capital partners and said it would be able to abide by local law by using software algorithms and human reviewers to make sure posts did not offend Beijing. Apparently, that was not enough.
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