Why LinkedIn left China

Our regional managing director for North Asia, Pete Lin, recently wrote this piece for The Drum, discussing the reasons why LinkedIn left China, and its implications. A summary of the article can be found below.

LinkedIn recently announced it will be shutting down its mainland China version of the platform. This wasn’t another case of the Great Firewall switching off the lights for a global social media platform. It was a voluntary decision by LinkedIn, as China continues to expand its censorship of the internet.

The Microsoft-owned service had censored posts, in compliance with local laws, to operate in China. In recent months, the profiles of academics and researchers have been reportedly blocked on the platform. Then in September, LinkedIn blocked several U.S. journalists, citing “prohibited content” in their profiles.

This brought on the ire of the US Congress, which questioned LinkedIn in early October. Congressman Rick Scott stated, “the censorship of these journalists raises serious questions about Microsoft’s intentions and its commitment to standing up against Communist China’s horrific human rights abuses and repeated attacks against democracy.”

This put Microsoft in a pickle. They needed to stay on top of censorship in China to maintain a LinkedIn presence, but in doing so, they faced a PR crisis and looming regulatory blowback at home.

LinkedIn made the decision of shutting down because of a “significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China,” as declared by Mohak Shroff, senior vice president of engineering.

This was a practical business decision. It’s really not worth all the trouble for Microsoft. Maybe it was manageable to simply work with the Chinese censors, but facing scorn at home for it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Microsoft have announced that they’ll be launching a new local jobs platform later this year called InJobs, which will replace LinkedIn China. Meanwhile, Bing remains one of the top search engines in China, where Google has been blocked since 2010.

For global internet companies doing business in China, “one company, two systems” is proving to be a failure. We’re living in a time where brands are trying harder than ever to stand for strong moral values, but that all goes out the window when doing business in China. Microsoft clearly doesn’t want to make a stand here, but they don’t want trouble either. Hence, bye-bye LinkedIn China.

Find out more in The Drum.