EXCLUSIVE: Top Republican torches LinkedIn for censoring Americans at the request of China

Story on the Washington Examiner website here: Top Republican torches LinkedIn for censoring Americans at the request of China

A top Republican has become the first member of Congress to call out LinkedIn, the only major American social media platform that operates in China, for censoring American users on behalf of the ruling Communist Party.

Rep. Jim Banks, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee in Congress, sent a letter Friday to Microsoft-owned LinkedIn, criticizing them for bowing down to the Chinese government by blocking the profiles of Americans who refer to the Asian superpower in a critical fashion.

There are at least 100 Americans whose LinkedIn profiles have anecdotally been found to have been banned by China in the past few months for allegedly anti-China content in the "Education" or "Experience" sections of their LinkedIn profiles.

However, thousands have likely been banned, according to an initial analysis by Dan Gainor, vice president at the Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog that tracks censorship on Big Tech platforms.

“LinkedIn is pressuring U.S. citizens to remove posts critical of China’s dictatorship because, apparently, ‘regional laws’ compel them to do Xi’s bidding,” Banks told the Washington Examiner.

“That’s a lie — LinkedIn is simply selling out America’s values and national security in order to boost its bottom line. LinkedIn needs to pick a side. Either serve the Communist Party or support the United States,” Banks added.

Banks also said Chinese spies use LinkedIn to recruit U.S. sources, which is illegal in America, but he said it wasn’t clear if LinkedIn was proactively trying to stop this from happening while working directly with the Chinese Communist Party on their censorship needs.

Banks wants LinkedIn to answer his questions in regards to their censorship, asking them in the letter which CCP speech regulations LinkedIn enforces on American users and asking the company if it has ever handed over user data requested by the Chinese government.

China blocked Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter starting in 2009, and Google withdrew from China in 2010 over Chinese censorship and intellectual property theft by the Chinese government.

This makes LinkedIn and its parent company Microsoft the only major American social media company to operate in China and comply with its government's harsh censorship rules.

Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, operates in China in a censored format, and the Seattle-based tech giant also provides facial recognition services to the Chinese Communist Party and has physical data servers in China.

Microsoft and LinkedIn did not respond to a request for comment from the Washington Examiner.

Banks, in his letter to LinkedIn, cites a statement by the company in which it defends its censorship actions by citing, “an obligation to respect the laws that apply to us, including adhering to Chinese government regulations for our localized version of LinkedIn in China.”

LinkedIn has 53 million users in China, approximately 7% of the professional social network's global total, and the company faces challenging trade-offs in their desire to operate in China.

“LinkedIn is really the only U.S. social network that’s allowed to operate in China, and this shows why it’s so hard,” said Adam Kovacevich, CEO of the Chamber of Progress, an advocacy group backed by Big Tech companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google.

“China, Russia, and India are all cracking down on free expression online," Kovacevich continued, "and U.S. officials should be sticking up for global internet freedom and human rights instead of sending cheap-shot letters to American services caught in a difficult position."

He said the U.S. has retreated in its leadership role and said it should be injecting issues such as online free speech into global diplomatic talks with China and other nations.

Other tech industry insiders disagreed with LinkedIn’s approach to doing business in China.

“It’s really unfortunate when American businesses like LinkedIn are allowing authoritarian regimes to dictate content outside their borders,” said Carl Szabo, vice president at NetChoice, a tech trade group that represents companies such as Amazon and Google.

“And when that does happen, they should actively push back on such demands. China suppressing the profiles of American users should not be happening,” Szabo added.

Scholars who study censorship are particularly disgruntled with LinkedIn’s actions toward Americans in the past few months.

“It’s so cowardly to placate an authoritarian government like the Chinese Communist Party. They’re doing the bidding of a genocidal dictatorship,” Gainor said. “How do the folks at LinkedIn live with themselves?“