Microsoft said it will shut down its LinkedIn site inside of China, days after facing public criticism for censoring the posts of several U.S. journalists.
In announcing the decision Thursday, LinkedIn said it was facing "a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China."
The news brings to an end the last major Western social-media site operating inside China, where the authorities have long blocked Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and other apps.
"Increased repression inside China, and greater criticism from Congress of going along with Chinese regulations, have made it unsustainable" for U.S. social-media companies, said Adam Segal, an expert on China and technology at the Council on Foreign Relations.
LinkedIn said it will "sunset" its current site later this year, but will launch a new site called InJobs that will not include a social-media feed or the ability to share posts or articles.
"Our new strategy for China is to put our focus on helping China-based professionals find jobs in China and Chinese companies find quality candidates," LinkedIn said. It didn't provide further details.
Chinese-owned social-media apps, such as WeChat and Weibo, are heavily censored to delete content that the authorities deem sensitive. And U.S. users of LinkedIn in recent weeks said they have faced similar censorship on their profiles inside China.
Those reports prompted Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., to write a letter to the chief executives of Microsoft and LinkedIn expressing concern that an "American company is actively censoring American journalists on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party."
One of the journalists, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, an Axios reporter who focuses on China from Washington, D.C., reported on Sept. 30 that LinkedIn had blocked her own profile and those of other U.S. journalists in China.
In an interview Thursday, Allen-Ebrahimian said LinkedIn several weeks ago sent her a message informing her that her profile would no longer be viewable in China because it contained "prohibited" content.
Allen-Ebrahimian asked the company several times for more specifics but "they never told me what the prohibited content was," she said. LinkedIn didn't respond to questions about that on Thursday.
Even if LinkedIn's new site lacks social-media features, the company will still be subjected to potentially invasive information requests from the Chinese authorities, Allen-Ebrahimian said.
"If the Chinese authorities want to know, has this person messaged with anybody, have they applied for any jobs? InJobs will have to provide that. If it's a criminal matter, okay, but what if they're doing it for political reasons?" she asked.
Melissa Chan, an American journalist who has reported for Vice and The Atlantic, also disclosed that LinkedIn had blocked her profile in China over "prohibited" content.
"There remains a lot more questions than answers," Chan said by email on Thursday. "Did some Chinese authority reach out to LinkedIn with a list of people and posts they had a problem with? Or did LinkedIn take the initiative and do it themselves? Knowing what happened matters."
Greg Bruno, a freelance journalist and author who focuses on Tibetan issues, said in an interview Thursday that LinkedIn told him he was blocked inside China due to "prohibited" content in the publications section of his profile. The only information in this section was about his three-year-old book, which he said details "China's effort to marginalize and de-ligitimize Tibetan exiles."
"I was pretty angry," he said. "The biggest thing that bothered me about LinkedIn's message was it was putting the onus on me to self-censor."
Despite his troubles with LinkedIn, Bruno lamented the end of the last U.S. social-media holdout in China. "This is just going to continue to insulate us in our information bubbles and cut us off as people," he said.
THE WASHINGTON POST