Chinese LinkedIn with an eye over their shoulder

I see that LinkedIn, the social networking platform geared toward professionals, is looking to expand its operations in China. As with all multinational private corporations doing business in the communist-controlled country, LinkedIn has made a faustian bargain with China’s totalitarian state, offering to do its dirty work of censorship. LinkedIn’s entirely rational commercial move gives the lie to claims that with economic freedom necessarily comes individual and social liberty.

My relationship with social networks and media platforms is somewhat ambivalent. LinkedIn I use sparingly, but I continually question its value to me as a freelance journalist. I especially resent the fact that LinkedIn employs sneaky tactics to persuade members to upload personal address books which may contain highly confidential information. These are then used to send out membership invitations to all and sundry.

Connecting with others via the interwebs does not require LinkedIn’s centralised infrastructure. Online discussion forums may be useful, but in the case of trade groups whose members compete with each other for a share of an ever-shrinking pie, the debates tend to be circumspect. In any case, common causes are covered by service and campaign-centred trade bodies such as the National Union of Journalists, of which I am an active member.

Maybe I am overly cynical, and should keep an open mind. Indeed I do, and as secretary of the London Freelance Branch of the NUJ I will next month be hosting speakers from LinkedIn who will endeavour to sell their product to those assembled. We will surely give our guests a respectful hearing, but there will be hard questions, not least given LinkedIn’s willingness to break bread with the anti-democratic behemoth known as the Communist Party of China.