Why did China censor and then unblock LinkedIn?
China’s great firewall (GFW), the commonly reference to the country’s internet censorship policy, is never far from the news but it made new headlines last week when it blocked and the subsequently unblocked business social network LinkedIn two days later.
I caught the news Thursday evening and it passed me by without so much as a raised eyebrow as it seems inevitable that LinkedIn, the last of the main English-language social networks still standing, would join Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Foursquare and Google on the censored list. It is also worth pointing out that LinkedIn is by no means mainstream in China so there is little impact on the local digital landscape.
But what was the reason behind the block and then subsequent u-turn.
Why the censoring?
As TechRice points out, LinkedIn is significant as it allows Chinese internet users access to Twitter through the ‘post to other social networks option’. However, this is unlikely to be the main motivator – as LinkedIn has remained open despite Twitter’s blockage – it has a clear implication for Twitter users in China. This is not likely to be the reason as the block was lifted.
The much supported theory for the blocking is communication and messages from so-called Jasm*ne protests, activists seeking to unsettle the government following the lead of protests in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and Libya. The activists are alleged to have used LinkedIn’s groups, messages and status updates to spread word of the cause.
With the decision reversed and the site unblocked and fully functioning in Chinese webspace the following day it is possible the block could have been accidental or a technical glitch
As Forbe’s Gady Epstein suggests, it could be a technical glitch, but it seems all to much of a coincidence that the last remaining ‘big guy’ in the west should fall foul of the GFW when anti-government activity is taking place on the site.
Why the unblock?
It remains unclear whether LinkedIn took any action which resulted in the lifting of the block – for example deleting the offending group and removing the offending users – and it does certainly seem strange that, if the block were for anti-government messages, it could be lifted so quickly.
It seems unlikely, also, that the government had a change of heart, perhaps in response to negative media reports as it continues to make far greater, more serious headlines for the continued detention of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, for example.
What is for sure though, as TechRice comments, is that LinkedIn has joined a prestigious list:
LinkedIn is in good company, especially in social: you haven’t made it until you’re either copied or blocked in China. Or preferably both.
The issue is likely to resurface again for LinkedIn, given its profile as a rare GFW-survivors still standing in the Chinese market.
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