TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- After censoring the account of a Chinese Tiananmen Square leader and activist on its site in China, LinkedIn changed its mind and unblocked him the next day, claiming he had been "blocked in error."
On Wednesday evening (Jan. 2), former Tiananmen Square protest leader and New York-based human rights activist Zhou Fengsuo was informed by LinkedIn that "specific content" on his account had been suspended in China. In the three-paragraph-long explanation, the company said that though it "strongly supports freedom of expression," it felt a need to "adhere to the requirements of the Chinese government in order to operate in China."
Zhou then posted the message on his Twitter feed and wrote that his account on LinkedIn had been censored a day after his WeChat account had lost some functionality. According to Owen Churchill, a corresponded at the South China Morning Post (SCMP), Zhou said the had used WeChat to share a video calling for the end of Chinese President Xi Jinping's rule.
In his post, he condemned the way censorship has managed to "spread from Communist China to Silicon Valley" and questioned how LinkedIn was handed its marching orders from Beijing.
My LinkedIn account was blocked by LinkedIn in China, a day after my other social account was blocked in China.This is how censorship spread from Communist China to Silicon Valley in the age of globalization and digitalization.— 周锋锁 Fengsuo Zhou (@ZhouFengSuo) 2019年1月3日
How does LinkedIn get the order from Beijing? pic.twitter.com/CMC8K0aIpo
His post soon spread like wildfire across Twitter and other social media platforms, such as Reddit. Western netizens roundly criticized Microsoft, the parent company of LinkedIn, for kowtowing yet again to Beijing at the expense of human rights.
In a post on Twitter in response, reporter Ryan Gallagher summed up the sentiments of many when he called out Microsoft for blatantly bowing down to Beijing yet again:
Microsoft-owned LinkedIn is censoring the account of a leading Chinese human rights activist who helped organise the Tiananmen protests in 1989. A reminder that Microsoft routinely bows down to the Chinese govt's authoritarian demands & has been doing so for years -- a disgrace.
On Thursday (Jan. 3), LinkedIn changed its tune and unblocked his content from the site in China. Despite the long initial explanation which clearly listed the need to adhere to Chinese laws at the expense of freedom of expression, the company sent an apology message stating that his profile had been "blocked in error."
Zhou posted the new message on Twitter and praised the company for its "prompt and correct response," and called on other companies to follow LinkedIn's example in standing up to China:
Update, @LinkedIn just apologized and reversed the decision which was deemed an error.— 周锋锁 Fengsuo Zhou (@ZhouFengSuo) 2019年1月3日
I applaud the prompt and correct response by LinkedIn.
I hope other companies would do the right job and avoid such error in the future.
Thanks to @owenschurchill for the quick follow up pic.twitter.com/Fx7hKg1Znu
LinkedIn spokeswoman Nicole Leverich told SCMP that Zhou's profile had been "blocked in error," but failed to elaborate why. Zhou told the newspaper that LinkedIn failed to explain to him what "specific content" content on his page had warranted the censorship in the first place.
Zhou told the paper that he believes the censorship may be connected to a video he recently shared on WeChat which showed people ripping up pages from Chinese President Xi JinPing's book "Governance of China" and included text calling for Xi to be deposed. After he shared the video, Zhou says content he posted on the social media app became invisible to people in China.
Zhou was a student leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and is the co-founder of Humanitarian China.