On February 24th, LinkedIn – the popular business social networking site – was unexpectedly unavailable in China. Users suspected the site had fallen victim to China’s strict censorship regime, often called the Great Firewall.
Fortunately, LinkedIn’s sudden disappearance appears to have been only temporary, as the site was accessible again late Friday evening.
This event highlights the precarious position of social media sites in China. YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have already been banned for some time, and the void left in their wake has typically been filled by domestic copies that are willing to play by the censors’ rules. Popular sites like Youku (the Chinese YouTube) employ hundreds simply to scan for and remove illegal content.
Why was LinkedIn blocked?
China’s censorship regime is complex and opaque, so it is unclear where the decision came from or why. However, LinkedIn has a built-in Twitter function that allows users to access the popular microblogging platform, effectively circumventing the Great Firewall. It is suspected that the timing is in part due to a new wave of unrest in the China.
Now is a particularly sensitive time for the Chinese regime. Local dissidents – inspired by the recent upheavals in the Middle East – have called for weekly demonstrations in over a dozen Chinese cities, calling their movement the Jasmine Revolution.
Chinese authorities are notorious for cracking down on these kinds of protests, and are particularly zealous when it comes to curtailing dissent online.
LinkedIn may have been spared this time due to its popularity among business leaders and the lack of a competitive Chinese substitute.