When Bill Bishop, who edits the popular China-focused newsletter Sinocism, attempted to link to its July 9 edition on LinkedIn (LNKD), the Mountain View, California, company censored out a link to a Washington Post article about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Bishop received the following explanation:

“We recognized when we launched a localized version of LinkedIn in China, we would need to adhere to the requirements of the Chinese government in order to operate in China. We also aim to be transparent about our actions and their impact on our members, hence the prior notification of your content being blocked,” LinkedIn said.

The content that Bishop posted falls within LinkedIN’s adherence to China’s censorship laws. But there was just one problem. Bishop posted the link from a U.S. IP address, as he was traveling in Maryland at the time.

LinkedIn’s censorship policy in China, a market that the career networking website sees as integral to its global growth strategy, has attracted significant controversy since the company launched a Chinese-language version of its site this February. Unlike fellow social networks like Facebook (FB) and Twitter (TWTR), which are firewalled in China because they refuse to comply with Chinese censorship demands, LinkedIn eliminates sensitive articles from its website in order to remain accessible in the country. Under the current regulations, LinkedIn users anywhere in the world -- not just in China -- cannot view stories that violate that country’s censorship laws.

It is this stipulation that has drawn so much criticism -- and has led LinkedIn to publicly consider a reversal. But if Bishop’s experience is any indication, the company’s policies appear to be even more restrictive than advertised: LinkedIn censored an article written by a US citizen from an American IP address to users around the world. In the explanation for why it blocked Bishop’s July 9 newsletter: “However, we only block content globally if it is posted from China IP addresses. We have decided to do so in this situation to protect the safety of our members in China.”

When reached about Bishop’s case, Hani Durzy, LinkedIn’s director of communication, confirmed that the company has occasionally blocked Sinocism within China, but did not explain why Bishop’s link to the Washington Post story triggered the global blockage.

What accounts for this discrepancy? Bishop isn’t certain. In a series of follow-up Tweets, he speculated that LinkedIN hasn’t perfected its censorship practices.


From the beginning of its relationship with China, where the company boasts a user base of five million, LinkedIn has defended its cooperation with the Communist Party. In a post to announce the creation of the Chinese-language site in February, CEO Jeff Weiner wrote:

“We believe that individuals in the United States, China, and beyond will benefit substantially from Chinese professionals connecting with each other and LinkedIn members in other parts of the world.”

Bishop, for his part, acknowledges that companies operating in China must abide by the country’s laws, which include censorship. But he added that LinkedIn deserves the criticism it has received.