Hello, good morning from Shunyi for Tuesday October 19th. During last weekend news broke that Microsoft had decided to pull the plug on their China operations. This was apparently in response to what they saw as Chinese censorship of their platform. Let’s take a quick look at that.
Often when we are researching a topic to write about we try to balance international media’s side against Chinese and moderate it somewhat with our own experience or viewpoint. Because, let’s not forget that the goal of Aim2D is to try to put some perspective on what mainstream media report on China. We are not aiming to white wash, or should that be red paint, every story that is critical of China. We, just like every Chinese citizen, know that life is not perfect here. Where in the world is it? But very often mainstream media seems to think it, and only it, know the truth and they have some divine responsibility to educate and inform Chinese people.
However, as we have said many times, Chinese are not stupid. Nor is international news and commentary blocked here. So they have a very good idea of what is happening globally as well as in their own back yard. Chinese balance what they know from living here against what they see, hear and read from overseas and make their own critical evaluation of their government. Much the same as you do. They complain about what isn’t working and enjoy what is. Seems to us that is the basis of life most places.
Back to LinkedIn’s linking out.
Maybe as the days, or weeks play out more detail will also flesh out on this. But right now, detail is a little short. There is hardly anything from China’s perspective and most of what we have read internationally falls back on rehashing the perspective of China as a heavily censored country. However if our memory is correct, this took root earlier 2021, maybe April when media reported China had asked LinkedIn to moderate its content. Somewhere between then and now, moderation has been translated as censorship.
Many bulletin boards, brand community support / help forums, blogs, social media platforms such as Mastodon or Diaspora, engage moderators who delete comments or lock threads when content is not in line with their standards. On that basis can we not say then, that they are censoring content? Perhaps this is what China was expecting? Who knows?
LinkedIn on the other have or at least, did have, a more hands off approach to their content. Readers are provided with a “Report this post” option which leads to a drop down with several options. End result was something like “you will not see this post in your feed again.” Fantastic. Until a few days later when the same poster appears with a different but similar themed post. We have had first hand experience of this in our role of managing our and other brands social media accounts.
Anti China Trolls
Obviously different business segments attract different membership niches or groups in LinkedIn and content does vary greatly over these. Some are highly targeted, others are more casual. Nothing wrong with this. However, on many occasions we would find the China board attracted the attention of prepubescent anti China trolls. A regular topic would draw obscene, offensive and insulting comment, totally off topic and nowhere near relevant to the discussion.
Very often this were related to Chinese people generally or Chinese culture. Fake news, blatant misinformation, close to hate speach. We don’t feel it unreasonable for LinkedIn to delete such comments and or ban the poster. But it never happened. This was the over reaching reason we walked away from LinkedIn some 5 or 6 years ago.
We feel that that the position LinkedIn now finds itself in is largely of its own making. Perhaps they felt they were defending their own misguided beliefs of their democratic society – it isn’t, it’s a republic. But even in true democracies, such as Great Britain, New Zealand and EU, surely they ultimately aim for for a decent, civilised society where people can speak thier mind without resorting to offensive or crude language? Is China wrong to expect that LinkedIn would have checks and balances in place to ensure this? As a non Chinese I would expect so.
It could be argued that perhaps the Chinese Government should have bigger things to focus on other than some idiots on line ravings. Fair comment. However, there is a line walked here. The CCP has not forgotten how they came to power – via the unrest and dissatisfaction of the masses – and how easy it could be to lose it. So when citizens or “lobby groups” apply pressure, they need to be “seen to act.” A bit like the British maixim:
“It is not merely of some importance but is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done”.Lord Chief Justice of England – Lord Hewart
Despite what is largely believed, whilst Chinese might not have the same freedom to protest as vehemently and violently as their western counterparts there are opportunities and channels for Chinese to express their dissatisfaction with Gvt or its policies. However, again, given its origins the CCP is extremely quick to crush talk or even ideas re insurrection. Which, given their recent Capitol Hill moment, LinkedIn and the US might want to reflect on. We are curious how Joe Biden might react if WeChat was hosting a thread dedicated to the violent removal of him from office? Mischievous speculation on our part of course!
Has China been out-played?
After a very quick crude and unscientific straw poll, businesses we spoke to were fairly evenly split on LinkedIn’s retreat between, yes, it would be a blow to their networking to nope, won’t make any difference. Eventually, time again will tell there. LinkedIn have stated they will keep their job board, just axe the social media platform. However, there are already some very well established professional LinkedIn esque platforms in China so they will have competition there. However, the devil in us can’t help but wonder if M/S had other motives?
It has been pretty well reported that M/S have engaged in a very intensive consumer “Data Gathering ” over the years with critics / cynics claiming it is constantly developing products or features simply to provide a convenient way for the program to report back to Microsoft databases. LinkedIn operates as a “Premium” product with both premium (paying) and free users providing a steady stream of data gold back to M/S.
In recent months China has moved to limit consumer data that can be collected and or sent off shore. With 95% of our straw poll indicating they have a free LinkedIn subscription perhaps M/S see little future value in keeping LinkedIn alive in China? However rather than be accused of having a pecuniary or purely economic interest in China and facing a severe back lash, M/S are taking a page from Google’s playbook and closing it down under the guise of standing up to tyranny and censorship? However, we recall they were not so squeamish about slaughtering their high ideals and principles when they agreed to self censor Bing in their rush to jump into the warm spot of the China search engine bed recently vacated by Google.
Will LinkedIn’s departure from China have any major impact? Frankly, we think not. We suspect LinkedIn etal have lost a lot of their importance to Chinese in recent years. Besides, it would be hard to find a European facing business in China that does not have access to a VPN. So for most it is business as usual. Plus, China may have taken a softer, more pragmatic approach of late with maybe a more “negotiated” settlement with VPN providers as many Zhou Wang public we know use some form of censorship circumvention to access “blocked” sites.
To wrap; do you have a business in China, how, if at all, will this impact on you? We’d love to hear your views and ideas in the comments. Till Thursday, as we said, this is, a wrap.
Thanks for reading our China news, marketing, tech and social media article – we hope it was useful, relative, informative, valuable.
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